Five Fascinating Facts about Rupert Brooke
Some quick facts about celebrated poet Rupert Brooke and his short but interesting life
2015 marks the centenary of Rupert Brooke’s death, so we thought we’d offer some interesting facts about the life of one of Britain’s most popular war poets.
1. Rupert Brooke once went skinny-dipping with Virginia Woolf. This happened in Cambridge, where Brooke (1887-1915) was a student. He had won a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge after writing a dissertation on Jacobean playwright John Webster and his debt to Elizabethan drama.
2. He was a huge influence on another celebrated war poet. Brooke was something of a hero to John Gillespie Magee, who would write one of the most famous poems of the Second World War, ‘High Flight‘. As well as that sonnet, Magee also wrote a ‘Sonnet to Rupert Brooke’. Magee also won the same poetry prize at Rugby School which Brooke had won some thirty years earlier.
3. His middle name was Chaucer. Or – to be strictly correct – it may have been. Brooke’s name is usually given as ‘Rupert Chawner Brooke’, but some records have the middle name as ‘Chaucer’, which suggests a nice poetic lineage from the medieval poet (about whom we have written here) and the twentieth-century war poet.
4. He was described by W. B. Yeats as ‘the handsomest young man in England’. Brooke’s good looks were often remarked upon, and while he was at Cambridge he was well-liked as a charming and handsome man, as well as a promising young poet.
5. He became popular when one of his poems was recited in St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s one of the more famous facts about Rupert Brooke’s life – that he wrote a number of war sonnets shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. But what is less well-known is that the most famous of these, ‘The Soldier’, was read aloud during the Easter Sunday service at St. Paul’s in London in 1915. By this time, thousands of men had already been killed in action and Brooke’s poem struck the perfect patriotic chord for the time. Unfortunately, Brooke himself had but a few weeks to live, and would be dead within a month (from an infected mosquito bite), dying on St George’s Day 1915 aboard a French ship moored off the coast of the Greek island of Skyros. He was buried on the island that night. He was just 27 years old. His posthumous reputation – helped greatly by the publication in 1918 of many hitherto unpublished poems – was considerable, and ‘The Soldier’ and ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ remain patriotic favourites with many readers. The lines ‘English unofficial rose’ and ‘is there honey still for tea?’ from the latter poem are probably his most famous words, along with this from ‘The Soldier’: ‘there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England.’ Apt words for a poet who would himself die in foreign lands but would come to embody a particular poetic idea of England. ‘And is there honey still for tea?’
In a related post, we’ve selected five of the best Rupert Brooke poems.