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Rupert Brooke and the 
Intellectual Imagination 

London : Sidgwick & Jackson, Limited 
3 Adam Street, Adelphi, W.C. 1919 


The following paper was read before Rttgby 

School on the evening of 2jth March 1919. 

A few alterations and omissions have been made 

in preparing it for /,! e press 

Printed fn Great Britain 
ly Twntutl &* Spears, Edinburgh 

Rupert Brooke and the 
Intellectual Imagination 

ONE evening in 1766, Dr Johnson being then in the 
fifty-seventh year of his age, his friends, Boswell 
and Goldsmith, called on him at his lodgings in 
Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, with the intention 
of persuading him to sup with them at the Mitre. 
But though he was proof against their cajoleries, 
he was by no means averse from a talk. With 
true hospitality, since he had himself, we are told, 
become a water-drinker, he called for a bottle 
of port. This his guests proceeded to discuss. 
While they sipped, the three of them con- 
versed on subjects no less beguiling than play- 
going and poetry. 

Goldsmith ventured to refer to the deplorable 
fact that his old friend and former schoolfellow 
had given up the writing of verses. " Why, sir," 
replied Johnson, " our tastes greatly alter. The 
lad does not care for the child's rattle. ... As 
we advance in the journey of life, we drop 
some of the things which have pleased us ; 
whether it be that we are fatigued and don't 


choose to carry so many things any farther, or 
that we find other things which we like better." 

Boswell persisted. " But, sir," said he, " why 
don't you give us something in some other way." 
" No, sir," Johnson replied, " I am not obliged 
to do any more. No man is obliged to do as 
much as he can do. A man is to have part of 
his life to himself." " But I wonder, sir," Boswell 
continued, " you have not more pleasure in writ- 
ing than in not writing." Whereupon descended 
the crushing retort, " Sir, you may wonder." 

Johnson then proceeded to discuss the actual 
making of verses. "The great difficulty," he 
observed alas, how truly, "is to know when 
you have made good ones." Once, he boasted, 
he had written as many as a full hundred lines a 
day ; but he was then under forty, and had been 
inspired by no less fertile a theme than "The 
Vanity of Human Wishes," a poem that, with 
other prudent counsel, bids the " young en- 
thusiast " pause ere he choose literature and 
learning as a spiral staircase to fame : 

Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes 
And pause awhile from Letters, to be wise . . . 

None the less, Johnson made haste to assure 
Goldsmith that his Muse even at this late day 
was not wholly mum : " I am not quite idle ; I 
made one line t'other day ; but I made no more!" 


" Let us hear it," cried Goldsmith, " we'll put a 
bad one to it ! " " No, sir, I have forgot it." 
And so sally succeeded sally. 

How much of the virtue of Johnson's talk we 
are to attribute to Boswell's genius for selection 
and condensation, and how much to the habitu- 
ality of his idol's supreme judgment, penetration, 
humanity and good sense, is one of the delectable 
problems of literature. This fact, at any rate, 
is unquestionable ; namely, that Johnson seldom 
indeed let fall a remark, even though merely in 
passing, which is not worth a sensible man's con- 
sideration. He knew rare felicity what he was 
talking about. He spoke rare presence of mind 
not without, but after, aforethought. However 
dogmatic, overbearing and partisan he might be, 
not only in what he is recorded to have said is 
there always something substantive and four- 
square, but frequently even a light and occasional 
utterance of his will stand like a signpost at the 
cross-roads positively imploring the traveller to 
make further exploration. 

" The lad does not care for the child's rattle." 
Here, surely, is one of those signposts, one 
more enticing invitation to explore. By rattle, 
obviously, Johnson meant not only things 
childish, but things childlike. For such things 
the ' lad ' does not merely cease to care. He 


substitutes for them other things which he likes 
better. Not that every vestige of charm and 
sentiment necessarily deserts the rattle, but other 
delights intrude ; and, what is still more im- 
portant, other faculties that will take pleasure in 
these new toys and interests comd into energy and 
play. Does not this rightly imply that between 
childhood and boyhood is fixed a perceptible gulf, 
physical, spiritual, psychological, and that in 
minds in which the powers and tendencies con- 
spicuous in boyhood, and more or less dormant 
or latent in earlier years, predominate, those of 
childhood are apt to fade and fall away ? 

This is true, I think, of us all, whatever our 
gifts and graces ; but in a certain direction I 
believe it is true in a peculiar degree of poets 
of children and lads (and possibly lasses, though 
they, fortunately for me, lie outside my im- 
mediate inquiry) who are destined, or doomed, 
to become poets. Poets, that is, may be divided, 
for illustration and convenience, into two distinct 
classes : those who in their idiosyncrasies 
resemble children and bring to ripeness the 
faculties peculiar to childhood ; and those who 
resemble lads. On the one hand is the poet who 
carries with him through life, in varying vigour 
and variety, the salient characteristics of child- 
hood (though modified, of course, by subsequent 


activities and experience). On the other is the 
jjoet who carries with him the salient character- 
istics of boyhood (though modified by the ex- 
-periences and activities of his childhood). This 
is little more than a theory, but it may be worth 
a passing scrutiny. 

What are the salient characteristics of child- 
hood ? Children, it will be agreed, live in a 
world peculiarly their own, so much so that it 
is doubtful if the adult can do more than very 
fleetingly reoccupy that far-away consciousness. 
There is, however, no doubt that the world of 
the grown-up is to children an inexhaustible 
astonishment and despair. They brood on us. 
And perhaps it is well that we are not invited 
to their pow-wows, until, at any rate, the hatchet 
for the hundredth time is re-buried. Children 
are in a sense butterflies, though they toil with 
an almost inconceivable assiduity after life's 
scanty pollen and nectar, and though, by a curious 
inversion of the processes of nature, they may be- 
come the half-comatose and purblind chrysalides 
which too many of us poor mature creatures so 
ruefully resemble. They are not bound in by 
their groping senses. Facts to them are the live-"l 
liest of chameleons. Between their dream and \ 
their reality looms no impassable abyss. There 
is no solitude more secluded than a child's, 4io 


absorption more complete, no insight more ex- 
quisite and, one might even add, more compre- 
hensive. As we strive to look back and to 
live our past again, can we recall any joy, fear, 
hope or disappointment more extreme than those 
of our childhood, any love more impulsive and 
unquestioning, and, alas, any boredom so un- 
mitigated and unutterable ? 

We call their faith, even in ourselves, credulity ; 
and are grown perhaps so accustomed to life's 
mysteries that we pale at their candour. " I am 
afraid you cannot understand it, dear," ex- 
claimed a long-suffering mother, at the end of her 
resources. " O yes, I can very well," was her 
little boy's reply, " if only you would not ex- 
plain." " Why is there such a lot of things in 
the world if no one knows all these things ? " 
ran another small mind's inquiry. And yet 
another : " Perhaps the world is a fancy, mother. 
Shall I wake from this dream ? " 

We speak indulgently of childish make-believe, 
childish fancy. Bret Harte was nearer the truth 
when he maintained that " the dominant ex- 
pression of a child is gravity." The cold fact 
is that few of us have the energy to be serious at 
their pitch. There runs a jingle : 

O, whither go all the nights and days ? 
And where can to-morrow be ? 


Is anyone there, when I'm not there ? 
And why am I always Me ? 

With such metaphysical riddles as these 
riddles which no philosopher has yet answered 
to anybody's but his own entire satisfaction 
children entertain the waking moments of 
their inward reverie. They are contemplatives, 
solitaries, fakirs, who sink again and again out 
of the noise and fever of existence into a waking 
vision. We can approach them only by way of 
intuition and remembrance, only by becoming 
even as one of them ; I though there are many 
books Sully's "Studies of Childhood," for 
instance, Mr Gosse's " Father and Son," John 
Ruskin's " Prseterita," Serge Aksakoff's " Years 
of Childhood," Henry James's " A Small Boy 
and Others " which will be a really vivid and 
quiet help in times of difficulty. 

This broken dream, then, this profound self- 
communion, this innocent peace and wonder 
make up the secret existence of a really child- 
like child : while the intellect is only stirring. 

Then, suddenly life flings open the door of the 
nursery. The child becomes a boy. I do not 
mean that the transformation is as instantaneous 
as that, though, if I may venture to give a' 
personal testimony, I have seen two children 
plunge out into the morning for the first time to 


their first boys' -school, and return at evening 
transmogrified, so to speak, into that queer, 
wild, and (frequently) amiable animal known as 
a boy. Gradually the childish self retires like a 
shocked snail into its shell. Like a hermit crab it 
accumulates defensive and aggressive disguises. 
Consciousness from being chiefly subjective 
becomes largely objective. The steam-engine 
routs Faerie. Actuality breaks in upon dream. 
School rounds off the glistening angles. The 
individual is swamped awhile by the collective. 
Yet the child-mind, the child-imagination per- 
sists, and if powerful, never perishes. 

But here, as it seems to me, is the dividing line. 
It is here that the boyish type of mind and im- 
agination, the intellectual analytical type begins 
to show itself, and to flourish. The boy I 
merely refer, if I may be forgiven, to Boy, and 
far more tentatively to Girl, in the abstract, 
though, of course, there is no such entity the 
boy is happy in company. Company sharpens 
his wits, awakens his rivalry, deepens his re- 
sponsiveness, enlarges his responsibility, " stirs 
him up," as we say. Apron-strings, however 
dear their contents, were always a little re- 
strictive. He borrows a pitiless pair of scissors. 
He, unlike the child told of by Blake and Vaughan 
and Traherne, had always more or less " under- 


stood this place." He loves " a forward motion " 
the faster the better. When " shades of the 
prison-house " begin to close about him, he im- 
mediately sets out to explore the jail. His 
natural impulse is to discover the thronging, 
complicated, busy world, to sail out into the 
West, rather than to dream of a remote Orient. 
He is a restless, curious, untiring inquirer ; / 
though preferably on his own lines rather than 
on those dictated to him. He wants to test, to 
examine, to experiment. 

We must beware of theories and pigeon-holes. 
Theory is a bad master, and there is a secret 
exit to every convenient pigeon-hole. There are 
children desperately matter-of-fact ; there are 
boys dreamily matter-of-fancy. But roughly, 
these are the two phases of man's early life. 
Surroundings and education may mould and 
modify, but the inward bent of each one of 
us is persistent. Can we not, indeed, divide 
" grown-ups " into two distinct categories ; 
those in whom the child is most evident, and 
those resembling the boy ? " Men are but children 
of a larger growth," says Dryden. And Praed 
makes fun of the sad fact : " Bearded men to- 
day appear just Eton boys grown heavy." The 
change is one of size rather than one of quality. 
Indeed, in its fight for a place, in its fair play 


and foul, in its rigid conventions, in its contest 
for prizes that are" so oddly apt to lose their 
value as soon as they are won, how like the school 
of life is to any other school ; how strangely 
opinions differ regarding its rules, its aims, its 
method, its routine and its Headmaster. 

And the poets ? They, too, attend both 
schools. But what are the faculties and qualities 
of mind which produce poetry, or which incline 
men towards it ? According to Byron, there are 
four elements that we are justified in demanding 
of a poet. He found them, not without satisfac- 
tion, more conspicuous in Pope than in his con- 
temporaries. These elements are sense, learning 
(in moderation), passion and invention. Perhaps 
because he was less rich in it, he omitted a fifth 
element, by no means the least essential. I mean 
imagination, the imagination that not merely 
invents, but that creates, and pierces to the in- 
most spirit and being of life, humanity and nature. 
This poetical imagination also is of two distinct 
kinds or types. ^he..on^diyines, the. .other dis- 
covers. JThe_one is intuitivejiilductive ; the other 
logical, deductive._ The one visionary, the other 
intellectual. The one knows that beauty is truth, 
the other proves that truth is beauty. And the 
poet inherits, as it seems to me, the one kind 
from the child in him, the other from the boy in 


him. Not that any one poet's imagination is 
purely and solely of either type. The greatest 
poets Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, for instance, 
are masters of both. Other poets, Wordsworth, 
Keats, Patmore, for instance, may manifest in 
varying measure the one impulse and the other. 
But the two streams, though their source and 
tributaries intermingle, are distinguishable ; and 
such poets as Plato, the writer of the Book of 
Job, Vaughan, Blake, Coleridge, and Shelley, 
may be taken as representative of the one type ; 
Lucretius, Donne, Dryden, Byron, Browning, 
Meredith, as representative of the other. Is not 
life both a dream and an awakening ? 

The visionaries, those whose eyes are fixed o 
the distance, on the beginning and end, rather 
than on the incident and excitement, of life's 
journey, have to learn to substantiate their 
imaginings, to base their fantastic palaces on 
terra firma, to weave their dreams into the fabric 
of actuality. But the source and origin of their 
poetry is in the world within. The intellectual, 
imagination, on the other hand, flourishes onS 
knowledge and experience. It must first explore \ 
before it can analyse, devour before it can ( 
digest, the world in which it finds itself. Ity 
feeds and feeds upon ideas, but because it is 
creative, it expresses them in the terms of 


humanity, of the senses and the emotions, makes 
life of them, that is. There is less mystery, less 
magic in its poetry. It does not demand of its 
reader so profound or so complete a surrender. 
But if any youthfulness is left in us, we can share 
its courage, enthusiasm and energy, its zest and 
enterprise, its penetrating thought, its wit, 
fervour, passion, and we should not find it 
impossible to sympathise with its wild revulsions 
of faith and feeling, its creative scepticism. 

Without imagination of the one kind or the 
other mortal existence is indeed a dreary and 
prosaic business. The moment we begin to live 
when we meet the friend of friends, or fall in 
love, or think of our children, or make up our 
minds, or set to the work we burn to do, or make 
something, or vow a vow, or pause suddenly face 
to face with beauty at that moment the im- 
agination in us kindles, begins to flame. Then 
we actually talk in rhythm. What is genius 
but the possession of this supreme inward energy 
in a rare and intense degree ? Dlumined by the 
imagination, our life whatever its defeats and 
despairs is a never-ending, unforeseen strange- 
ness and adventure and mystery. This is the 
fountain of our faith and of our hope. 

And so, by what I am afraid has been a tediously 
circuitous route, I have come at length to 


Rupert Brooke and to his poetry. His surely 
was the intellectual imagination possessed in a 
rare degree. Nothing in his work is more con- 
spicuous than its preoccupation with actual ex- 
perience, its adventurousness, its daring, its keen 
curiosity and interest in ideas, its life-giving 
youthfulness. Nothing in his work is more con- 
spicuous by its absence than reverie, a deep still 
broodingness. The children in his poems are 
few. They are all seen objectively, from without ; 
though a wistful childlike longing for peace and 
home and mother dwells in such a poem as 
" Retrospect " or "A Memory." I am not sure 
that the word ' dream ' occurs in them at all.* 

" Don't give away one of the first poets in 
England," he says in one of his letters, " but 
there is in him still a very, very small portion 
that's just a little childish." Surely it was the 
boy in him that boasted in that jolly, easy fashion, 
the boy in him that was a little shamefaced 
to confess to that fault vestige of childishness. 

* To my shame and consternation my friend Mr Edward 
Marsh has pointed out to me, since this paper was read, that 
the word ' dream ' occurs in no less than fifteen of Brooke's 
poems. This, I hope, will be one more salutary lesson that 
general impressions are none the worse for being put to a 
close test. Still, the fact that that peculiar, dreamlike 
quality and atmosphere which is so conspicuous in the poetry 
of the visionaries is very rarely, if ever, present in that of 
Brooke will not, I think, be gainsaid. 



The theme of his poetry is the life of the mind, 
the senses, the feelings, life here and now, how- 
ever impatient he may be with life's limita- 
tions. Its longing is for a state of consciousness 
wherein this kind of life shall be possible with- 
out exhaustion, disillusionment, or reaction. His 
words, too, are not symbols ; they mean pre- 
cisely what they say and only what they say. 
Whereas the words of the mystics of the child- 
like imagination, Blake and Vaughan and 
Coleridge, seem chiefly to mean what is left 
hinted at, rather than expressed. His world 
stands out sharp and distinct, like the towers and 
pinnacles of a city under the light and blue of 
the sky. Their world, old as Eden and remote as 
the stars, lies like the fabric of a vision, bathed 
hi an unearthly atmosphere. He desired, loved, 
and praised things in themselves for their energy, 
vividness and naturalness ; they for some inward 
and spiritual significance, for the reality of 
which they are the painted veil. They live in 
the quietude of their imaginations, in a far-away 
listening, and are most happy when at peace, if 
not passive. He is all activity, apprehensiveness. 
Nothing pleases him so much as doing things, 
though, fretted that body and mind so soon weary, 
he may pine for sleep. His writing, whether hi 
his poems, his " Webster," or in his letters, is itself 


a kind of action ; and he delights far more than 
the mystics in things touched, smelt and tasted. 
He delights, that is, in things in themselves not 
merely for then* beauty or for the unseen reality 
they represent. He is restless, enquiring, veers 
in the wind like a 'golden weathercock. 'He is 
impatient of a vague idealism, as wary as a fox 
of the faintest sniff of sentimentality. To avoid 
them (not always quite successfully,) he flies to 
the opposite extreme, and to escape from what 
he calls the rosy mists of poets' experience em- 
phasises the unpleasant side of life. His one 
desire is to tell each salient moment's truth 
about it. Truth at all costs : let beauty take 
care of itself. So he came to write and to defend 
poems that in Mr Marsh's witty phrase one finds 
it disquieting to read at meals. A child, a 
visionary, lives in eternity ; a man in tune, a 
boy sheer youthfulness in the moment. It is 
the moments that flower for Brooke. What is 
his poem " Dining-room Tea " but the lovely 
cage of an instant when in ecstasy time and the 
world stood still ? 

For truth's sake he has no fear of contradic- 
tions. The mood changes, the problem, even 
the certainty shows itself under different aspects ; 
he will be faithful to each in turn. Obviously 
he rather enjoyed shocking the stagnant and 


satisfied, and baiting the thin-blooded philo- 
sophers, enjoyed indeed shocking and baiting 
himself; but he also delighted, for the pure in- 
tellectual exercise, in looking, as we say, all round 
a thing. If, unlike Methuselah, he did not live 
long enough to see life whole, he at least con- 
fronted it with a remarkably steady and dis- 
concerting stare. If he was anywhere at ease, 
it was in ' ' the 1 ittle nowhere of the brain .' ' Again 
and again, for instance, he speculates on the life 
that follows death. First (mere chronological 
order is not absolutely material) he imagines the 
Heaven of the fish : 

Fat caterpillars drift around, 
And Paradisal grubs are found ; 
Unfading moths, immortal flies, 
And the worm that never dies. 
And in that Heaven of all their wish, 
There shall be no more land, say fish. 

Next, he laments despairingly in Tahiti, with a 
kind of wistful mockery, at the thought of an im- 
mortality wherein all is typical and nothing real : 

And you'll no longer swing and sway 
Divinely down the scented shade, 
Where feet to Ambulation fade, 
And moons are lost in endless Day. 
How shall we wind these wreaths of ours, 
Where there are neither heads nor flowers ? . 


Next, he momentarily wafts himself into the 
being of a Shade : 

So a poor ghost, beside his misty streams, 
Is haunted by strange doubts, evasive dreams, 

Hints of a pre-Lethean life, of men, 
Stars, rocks, and flesh, things unintelligible, 

And light on waving grass, he knows not when, 
And feet that ran, but where, he cannot tell. 

Next, he deprecates the possibility of a future 
life even as tenuous and nebulous as this : 

Poor straws ! on the dark flood we catch awhile, 
Cling, and are borne into the night apart. 
The laugh dies with the lips, ' Love ' with the lover. 

And, again, he is lost in rapture at the possibility 
which he mocked at in the first poem, sighed at 
in the second, belittled in the third, and denied 
in the fourth : 

Not dead, not undesirous yet, 
Still sentient, still unsatisfied, 

We'll ride the air, and shine, and flit, 
Around the places where we died, 

And dance as dust before the sun, 
And light of foot, and unconfined, 

Hurry from road to road, and run 
About the errands of the wind. 


And every mote, on earth or air, 

Will speed and gleam, down later days, 

And like a secret pilgrim fare 
By eager and invisible ways, 

Nor ever rest, nor ever lie, 

Till, beyond thinking, out of view, 

One mote of all the dust that's I 
Shall meet one atom that was you. 

Then in some garden hushed from wind, 

Warm in a sunset's afterglow, 
The lovers in the flowers will find 

A sweet and strange unquiet grow 

Upon the peace ; and, past desiring, 

So high a beauty in the air, 
And such a light, and such a quiring, 

And such a radiant ecstasy there, 

They'll know not if it's fire, or dew, 
Or out of earth, or in the height, 

Singing, or flame, or scent, or hue, 
Or two that pass, in light, to light, 

Out of the garden, higher, higher. . . . 

Which of these conflicting solutions, we may 
inquire, to one of Life's obscurest problems are we 
to accept as his ? Do, or do not, such seductive 
speculations as these confirm the view expressed 
by Plato in the Republic that the poets 
undermine the rational principle in the soul ? 
It may be admitted that such poetry as this, in 


the words of Bacon, " makes men witty," and is 
unquestionably a " criticism of life " ; but can it 
be said to teach as Wordsworth intended that 
his poetry should ? Well, when Mrs Barbauld 
had the temerity to charge ." The Rime of the 
Ancient Mariner " with two grave faults ; first, 
that it was improbable, and next, that it had no 
moral ; Coleridge cheerfully pleaded guilty to the 
first charge, while, as for the other, " I told her 
that ... it had too much that is, for a work 
of pure imagination." Will it satisfy " serious " 
inquirers if it be suggested that these poems of 
Brooke's are manifestations of the intellectual 
imagination ? Probably not. They demand of 
a poet a definite and explicit philosophy. They 
desire of him a confirmation, if not of their own 
faith, then of his. But it cannot be too clearly 
recognised that the faith of a poet is expressed in 
all that he writes. He cannot, either as a man 
or as a poet, live without faith ; and never does. 
A few lovely words about lovely things is an 
expression of faith : so, too, is all love, all desire 
for truth, all happiness. If we have such faith 
ourselves, if we search close enough, we shall 
find a poet's faith expressed implicitly through- 
out his work. 

We must, too, be thankful for many and various 
mercies, the mercy, for instance (so richly con- 


ferred in Brooke's writing) that here was a man 
who never spared mind and spirit in the effort 
to do the best work he could, who was that 
finest thing any man can be a true craftsman 
delighting in his job. We cannot demand that a 
poet shall answer each of our riddles in turn ; 
" tidy things up." He shares our doubts and 
problems ; exults in them, and at the same time 
proves that life in spite of all its duplicity and 
deceits and horrors, is full of strangeness, wonder, 
mystery, grace and power : is " good." This, 
at any rate, is true of Rupert Brooke. And he 
knew well enough that the nearer a poet gets to 
preaching, the more cautious he should be re- 
specting the pulpit and the appurtenances thereof. 
As with the life hereafter, so with this life, so 
with love. The sentimentalist always shy of the 
real, the cynic always hostile to it, cling to some 
pleasing dream or ugly nightmare of the real, 
knowing them to be illusions. That is precisely 
what Brooke, keen, insistent, analytical, refused 
to do. He pours out his mind and heart for 
instance in the service of love. The instant 
that love is dead, he has, to put it crudely, very 
little use for its corpse. He refuses point blank 
to find happiness in any happy medium, to be a 
wanderer, as he said, in " the middle mist." 
There are two sides many more than two, as a 


matter of fact to every question. " Blue 
Evening " or " The Voice " prove his competence 
to see both. At times, indeed, with a kind of 
boyish waywardness and obstinacy he prefers the VT 
other side the ugliest of the much-flattered 
moon. Helen's young face was beautiful. True. 
In age not only must she have lost her now 
immortal fairness, but possibly she became 
repulsive. Well, then, as a poet, hating 
"sugared lies," he said so. 

It is indeed characteristic of the intellectual 
imagination to insist on ' life's little ironies.' 
It destroys in order to rebuild. Every scientist, 
who is not a mere accumulator of facts, possesses 
it. Acutely sensitive to the imperfections of the 
present, its hope is in the future ; whereas the 
visionary, certainly no less conscious of flaw and 
evil, is happy in his faith in the past, or rather 
in the eternal now. The one cries " What shall 
I do ? " the other " What must I be ? " The 
one, as has been said, would prove that truth is * 


beauty ; the other knows that beauty is truth. 
After all, to gain the whole world is in one true 
sense to save the soul. 

In the lugubrious and exciting moment when 
Brooke wrote " Kindliness " and " Menelaus and 
Helen," it was not his aim or thought to see that 
age, no less than youth and beauty is, in his own 


phrase, ' pitiful with mortality.' He resented 
ugliness and decay, and associated them with 
death and evil. For death, whatever else it 
may be, brings destruction of the beauty of the 
body ; and evil brings the destruction of the spirit 
which is the life and light of the body. They 
are the contraries of a true living energy ; and 
because his mind seemed to be indestructible, 
and his body as quick with vitality as a racehorse, 
and love the very lantern of beauty, he not only 
feared the activities of death, but was intolerant 
of mere tranquillity, even of friendliness, and, 
above all, of masking make-believe. 

Sometimes, indeed, in his poetry, in his letters, 
he is not quite just to himself in the past, or 
even in the present, because he seemed to detect 
compromise and pretence. " So the poor love 
of fool and blind I've proved you, For, fool or 
lovely, 'twas a fool that loved you." On the 
other hand, listen to these fragments from the 
letters in Mr Marsh's vivifying memoir, " I find 
myself smiling a dim, gentle, poetic, paternal 
Jehovah-like smile over the ultimate ex- 
cellence of humanity." " Dear ! dear ! it's 
very trying being so exalted one day, and ever so 
desperate the next this self-knowledge ! . . ." 
\ "I know what things are good : friendship and 
work and conversation. These I shall have. 


He tells how the day has brought back to him 
" that tearing hunger to do and do and do things. 
I want to walk 1000 miles, and write 1000 plays, 
and sing 1000 poems, and drink 1000 pots of 
beer, and kiss 1000 girls, and oh, a million 
things ! . . . The spring makes me almost 
ill with excitement. I go round corners 
on the roads shivering and nearly crying 
with suspense, as one did as a child, fearing 
some playmate in waiting to jump out and 
frighten one. . . ." " Henceforward," writes 
Mr Marsh in another passage, " the only thing 
he cared for or rather he felt he ought to 
care for in a man, was the possession of good- 
ness ; its absence the one thing he hated. . . . 
It was the spirit, the passion that counted with 

His verse tells the same tale. Life to poetry, 
poetry to life that is one of the few virtuous 
circles. Life and thought to him were an endless 
adventure. His mind, as he says, was restless 
as a scrap of paper in the wind. His moods 
ebbed and flowed, even while his heart, that 
busy heart, as he called it, was deeply at rest. 
Wit to such a mind is a kind of safety-valve, or 
even the little whistle which the small boy pipes 
up for courage' sake in the dark. Letters and 
poems flash and tingle with wit and rare 


indeed are the poems in our language which, like 
" Tiare Tahiti," " The Funeral of Youth," and 
" The Old Vicarage," are witty and lovely at the 
same time : 

And in that garden, black and white, 
Creep whispers through the grass all night ; 
And spectral dance, before the dawn, 
A hundred Vicars down the lawn ; 
Curates, long dust, will come and go 
On lissom, clerical, printless toe ; 
And oft between the boughs is seen 
The sly shade of a Rural Dean . . . 
Till, at a shiver in the skies, 
Vanishing with Satanic cries, 
The prim ecclesiastic rout 
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out, 
Grey heavens, the first bird's drowsy calls, 
The falling house that never falls . . . 

Few poets have mocked and made fun and 
made beauty like that, all in one breath, and 
certainly not the childlike visionaries, though 
one of them knew that even by mere playing 
the innocent may go to heaven. And beneath 
Brooke's wit was humour the humour that is 
cousin to the imagination, smiling magnanimously 
at the world it loves and understands. 

Byron, too, was witty, mocking, enjoyed turn- 
ing things inside out and wrong side upwards, 
picking ideas to pieces, shocking the timid, the 


transcendental, the spinners of cocoons ; but 
Brooke, unlike Byron, was never sourly sardonic, 
never morbidly cynical. Simply because he was 
always testing, analysing, examining, with an 
intellect bordering as close on his emotions as his 
emotions bordered on his intellect, he was, again, 
in Mr Marsh's words, self-conscious, self-examin- 
ing, self-critical, but never self-absorbed ; never 
an ice-cold egotist, that is, however insistent he 
may be on his own individuality. More closely 
than Byron he resembles Mercutio : 

If love be rough with you, be rough with love ; 
Prick love for loving, and you beat love down . . . 
If thou art dun, we'll draw thee from the mire 
Of this, sir-reverence love, wherein thou stick'st 
Up to the ears. Come, we burn daylight, ho ... 

I mean, sir, in delay 

We waste our lights in vain, like lamps by day. 
Take our good meaning, for our judgement sits 
Five times in that ere once in our five wits. 

And in his metaphysical turns, his wayward- 
ness, his contradictoriness, his quick revulsions 
of feeling, he reminds us not less he reminded 
even himself (in a moment of exultation) of the 
younger Donne. 

Though " magic " in the accepted sense is all 
but absent from his verse the magic that 
transports the imagination clean into another 


reality, that drenches a word, a phrase, with 
the light that was never strangely cast even 
on the Spice Islands or Cathay, he has that 
other poetic magic that can in a line or two 
present a portrait, a philosophy, and fill the 
instant with a changeless grace and truth. 
That magic shines out in such fragments, for 
instance, as : 

Beauty was there, 

Pale in her black ; dry-eyed ; she stood alone . . . 




And turn, and toss your brown delightful head, 
Amusedly, among the ancient Dead ; 

And less-than-echoes of remembered tears 
Hush all the loud confusion of the heart : 

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter 
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after, 

Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance 
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white 

Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance, 
A width, a shining peace, under the night. 

What, again, is it but this magic which stills 
the heart, gives light to the imagination, in one 


of the less well-known, but not the least quiet 
and tender of his poems, " Doubts " ? 

When she sleeps, her soul, I know, 
Goes a wanderer on the air, 
Wings where I may never go, 
Leaves her lying, still and fair, 
Waiting, empty, laid aside. 
Like a dress upon a chair . . . 
This I know, and yet I know 
Doubts that will not be denied. 

For if the soul be not in place, 
What has laid trouble in her face ? 
And, sits there nothing ware and wise 
Behind the curtain of her eyes, 
What is it, in the self s eclipse, 
Shadows, soft and passingly, 
About the corners of her lips, 
The smile that is essential she ? 

And if the spirit be not there, 
Why is fragrance in the hair ? 

Above all, Brooke's poems are charged with, and 
surrender the magic of what we call personality. 
They seem, as we read them, to bring us into a 
happy, instant relationship with him, not only 
ghostly eye to eye, but mind to mind. They tell 
more than even friendship could discover unaided. 
They share his secrets with the world as if a 


boy had turned out the contents of his astonish- 
ing pockets just before going to bed. They share 
them, too, in that queer paradoxical fashion 
which makes a volume of poems a more secure 
refuge even than one's lawyer, one's doctor, or 
a priest. 

Many of OUT fellow-creatures whether we 
like or dislike them, approve or disapprove 
always remain a little mysterious and pro- 
blematical. Even when they most frankly ex- 
press themselves, we are conscious that there is 
still something in them that eludes us, a dream 
unshared, a reticence unbroken, a fugitive 
phantom. Have we, indeed, all of us, to the 
last dim corner and attic, cellar and corridor, 
explored ourselves ? Because of his very 
candour, because, so to speak, of what he looked 
like, this was to some extent true of Rupert 
Brooke. Age, in time, scrawls our very selves 
upon our faces. Fast-locked the door of our 
souls may be, but the key hangs in the porch. 
But youth and delightful manners may be a 
mask concealing gravity and deep feeling. And 
what is one's remembrance of that serenely 
eager, questing face, stilled, as it were, with the 
phantom of a smile that might have lingered in 
the countenance of the Sphinx in her younger 
days, but that of the very embodiment of youth ? 


We don't often meet people in this world who 
instantly recall the Golden Age and remind us 
that the Greek sculptors went to Life for their 
models. Even Henry James, in his essay on 
Brooke, not less in its translucency than five 
fathoms deep, seems to pause Prospero-like before 
that Ariel whom he had suddenly encountered in 
the beautiful setting of the Cambridge " backs." 
With the lingering gusto which an epicure 
lavishes on a rare old vintage he tastes tastes 
again, and all but hesitates for words to express 
his precise and ultimate reaction ; and to suggest 
that Henry James was ever at a loss for words 
is to insinuate that the Mississippi might run 
short of water. 

One was just happy in Brooke's company. 
Guiltily one eyed his gold. Here in laughing, 
talking actuality was a living witness of what 
humanity might arrive at when well, when 
we tread the streets of Utopia. Happiness is 
catching. No doubt this admiration sometimes 
elated him, without his being aware of it. At 
times, in certain company, it must have been 
a positive vexation. Admiration is a dense 
medium though which to press to what treasure 
may be beyond. Poets, indeed, unlike children, 
and for their own sake if not for that of others, 
should be heard and not seen ; and it must have 


been very difficult for this poet to take cover, 
to lie low. He came ; you saw ; he conquered. 
And after ? Like a good child's birthday cake, 
he was as rich as he looked. 

" I never met," wrote to his mother one 
heaven-sent friend (I mean sent to the outskirts 
of heaven), " I never met so entirely likeable 
a chap. . . . Your son was not merely a genius ; 
what is perhaps more important, he had a charm 
that was literally like sunshine." Indeed the 
good things simply softly shimmered out of him 
wit, enthusiasm, ideas, raillery, fun, and that 
sympathetic imagination concerning everybody 
and everything that he himself said was the 
artist's one duty. He had, of course, his own 
terms critical, and perhaps at times a little 
exacting. If he suffered a fool, no more than with 
the rest of his own generation was it with a 
guileless gladness. He preferred humanity to 
be not too stiff, not too stupid, and not too dry. 
Talk he loved ; and when he listened, his mind 
was in his eyes, " tree whispering to tree without 
wind, quietly." If he hated, if his sensitiveness 
wholly recoiled, then that emphatically was the 
end of the matter. 

He confronted his fellow-creatures just like 
the boy he was, ready to face what and who may 
come without flinching ; smiling lip and steady 


eye. One was conscious of occasional shynesses 
and silences, even a little awkwardness at times 
that was in itself a grace. One was still more 
conscious of an insatiable interest and specula- 
tion. His quiet gaze took you in ; yours couldn't 
so easily take him in. These are but my 
own remembrances, few, alas, however vivid 
and unfading : and even at that they are 
merely those of one of the less responsive 
sex ! 

In spite of life's little disillusionments (which, 
it is prudent to remember, we may cause as 
well as endure) ; in spite of passing moods of 
blackness and revulsion, nothing could be clearer 
in his poems, in his letters, and in himself, than 
his zest and happiness. Looking back on his 
school -life he said that he had been happier than 
he could find words to say. What wonder that 
at twenty he describes himself as in the depths 
of despondency " because of my age " ? And a 
little later : " I am just too old for romance." 
What does that mean but that he found life so 
full and so arresting that he was afraid he might 
not be able to keep pace with it ? It was a need- 
less apprehension. The sea was deep beneath 
the waves and the foam. If he had lived to 
be, let us say, forty, he would have said just 
the same thing, though, perhaps, with more 


emphasis and more philosophy. He was never 
to experience that passing misfortune. He flung 
himself into the world of men or of books, of 
thought and affairs as a wasp pounces into a 
cakeshop, Hotspur into the fighting. When ^ 
his soul flourished on Walter Pater and Aubrey ' 
Beardsley, he thought it a waste of time to walk 
and swim. When, together with meat and 
alcohol, he gave up these rather rarified dainties, 
and lived, as it is fabulously reported, on milk 
and honey, it seemed a waste of time to do 
anything else. He could not be half-hearted. 
Indeed, in that " tearing hunger to do things " 
working, playing, reading, writing, publishing, 
travelling, talking, socialism, politics any one 
thing seemed a waste of time, because mean- 
while the rest of life's feast was kept waiting. 
" What an incredibly lovely, superb world ! " he 
exclaims. Lovely, superb what are the precise 
epithets which we should choose ? Again, " it 
is fun going and making thousands of acquaint- 
ances." It must be fun when you are Rupert 
Brooke. Frankly, voraciously, that is how he met 
everything and everybody from Mrs Grundy to 
the Statue of Liberty. 

The Statue of Liberty reminds me, vividly and 
happily, of America. Three years ago, the fact 
that one of the great American Universities had 

awarded Brooke the first Rowland Memorial 
Prize " in recognition of an achievement of 
marked distinction in the field of literature " 
passed, comparatively speaking, unnoticed in 
England. But that award was not merely an 
academic compliment. The value of a gift is in 
the spirit of the giver, and this gift of love and 
admiration was from the heart. The friend 
because none worthier to be sent was free the 
friend of Brooke's whose privilege it was to go 
to New Haven formally to receive that prize on 
Mrs Brooke's behalf, was absolutely unknown 
there. His name my name, as a matter of 
fact was, alas, no Sesame. In New York I 
went, I remember, to call one day on a very 
charming friend of Brooke's, to whom he wrote 
some of his gayest letters. A graceful coloured 
lift-girl inquired who the caller was. I told her. 
Whereupon she exclaimed, with a smile all 
radiant gold and ivory, " Gee whiz ! what a 
name ! " This trifling and immodest digression 
is only to show just how Mrs Brooke's ambassador 
stood in the great eye of America. Now, in 
Brooke's own words, " American hospitality 
means that with the nice ones you can be at once 
on happy and intimate terms." I wish I had 
words to express how true that is that heedful, 
self-sacrificing, unbounded kindness. The nice 

ones indeed were everywhere, for without ex- 
ception they all knew, or knew of, Brooke. 
Not that they knew no other contemporary 
English poet, perhaps even a little better than 
John Bull does himself Mr Yeats, Mr Binyon, 
Mr Masefield, Mr Gibson. But I had but to 
whisper " R. B." and the warmest welcome and 
interest were mine. Now, in nineteen hundred 
and sixteen that welcome for his sake was not 
merely of literary significance. The ardour and 
devotion of those English sonnets of his had 
gone home, and the home of poetry is world- wide. 
Never was a true friendship between two countries 
and nations of such vital importance as that 
between England and America to-day. Long 
before the American nation actually " came 
into " the war, many, many hearts there beat 
truly with ours. Cousins cannot invariably see 
eye to eye. But we cannot forget that generous 
sympathy in the hour when England needed it. 
Our steady insight and understanding, with as 
slight an admixture as possible of a peculiar 
quality of insularity which may be compre- 
hensively described as " God-Almightiness," is 
the least we can give in return. 

I hope it will be no breach of confidence if I 
quote a few words from a letter I received from 
a friend in America only the other day, one who 


knew Brooke's poetry not by hearsay, but by 
heart. " I dutifully belong," she writes, " to 
the English-speaking Unions, and am properly 
interested in various schemes for making the 
relations between England and America closer. 
But I may say this to you I don't want the 
alliance to result in the least Americanizing of 
England. I want England to remain ' like her 
mother who died yesterday ' ; " (she is quoting 
Edward Thomas, rare poet and rarest friend). 
" We over here," she continues, " can't have all 
the simple, lovely and solitary things of which 
Englishmen write. It helps so much to be able 
to think of them as they are in England." These 
are the words of a devotee of England such 
devotees as poetry makes and keeps. 

But such were the friends that Brooke himself 
with his poetry, personality and happiness made 
wherever he went. " Happy," indeed, is the re- 
frain that runs through all his letters. And then, 
at length, when on his way to the last great ad- 
venture of all : "I have never," he writes, " I 
have never been so pervasively happy in my 
life." That is how he opened the door into one's 
life, and came in. But behind all that we say or 
do, behind even what we think, is the solitude 
wherein dwells what we are : and to that solitude 
he was no stranger, even though it was not what 


called most frequently for expression. Because 
each day was so great a tax, however welcome, 
on mind and body, he sometimes longed for 
sleep : 

O haven without wave or tide ! 
Silence, in which all songs have died ! 
Holy book, where hearts are still ! 
And home at length under the hill ! 
O mother quiet, breasts of peace, 
Where love itself would faint and cease I 

infinite deep I never knew, 

1 would come back, come back to you, 
Find you, as a pool unstirred, 

Kneel down by you, and never a word, 

Lay my head, and nothing said, 

In your hands, ungarlanded ; 

And a long watch you would keep ; 

And I should sleep, and I should sleep ! 

So, again and again his thoughts in his poetry 
turn towards death, only in appearance the 
deepest sleep of all. But then, again, since 
nothing in life could satisfy such a hunger and 
aspiration for life, beyond mood and change he 
longed for a peace " where sense is with knowing 
one " : and, beyond even this bodiless com- 
munion, for the peace that passes understanding : 

Lost into God, as lights in light, we fly, 
Grown one with will. 


Simply because things as they are are not as 
they should be, we take refuge at times from the 
defeats and despairs of this mortal existence in 
satire and scepticism, a passing doubt in man, 
in goodness, in the heavenly power. So, too, 
did he. He kept piling up the fuel for those 
" flaming brains " of his ; took life at the flood. 
When ashes succeeded the blaze and the tide 
ran low and the mud-flats shimmered in the 
mocking sunshine ; why, he could at least be 
frank. Each in turn he accepted life's promises ; 
when it broke some of them as it sometimes 
must in order to keep the others he closely 
examined the pieces, whatever the pang. One 
promise, however, would never have failed him : 
" There are only three' good things in this 
world: one is to read, one is to write, the 
other is to live poetry." The last is by far 
the most difficult, and Mrs Grundy is not un- 
charmed to discover that not all the poets 
are masters of the art. But there it is : they 
are his own deliberate words ; and he meant 
what he said. 

What, if he had lived, he would have done in 
this world is a fascinating but an unanswerable 
question. This only can be said : that he 
would have gone on being his wonderful self. 
Radium is inexhaustible. As we look back 


across the gulf of these last four years we see 
him in vividest outline against the gloom. 
Other poets, beloved of the gods, and not un- 
endeared to humanity, have died young, as did 
he. Indeed it may be that, However uncom- 
promising the usages of time, every poet, ever}^ 
man in whom burns on a few coals of imagina- 
tion, " dies young." But no other English poet 
of his age has given up his life at a moment so 
signal, so pregnant. This has isolated and set 
Rupert Brooke apart. No single consciousness 
can even so much as vaguely realise the sacrifice 
of mind and hope and aspiration, of life and 
promise, " lovely and of good report," which this 
pitiless and abominable war has meant to 
England and to the world. His sacrifice was 
representative. The " incantation of his verse " 
quickened " a new birth," his words were " sparks 
among mankind." 

What place in English literature the caprices 
of time and taste will at length accord him 
does not concern us. Let us in our thoughts be 
as charitable as we can to our posterity, who will 
have leisure for judgment, and can confer that 
remembrance which fleeting humanity flatters in 
the term " immortality." 

I saw him beat the surges under him, 
And ride upon their backs . . . 


His bold head 

'Bove the contentious waves he kept, and oar'd 
Himself with his good arms in lusty stroke 
To the shore, that o'er his wave-worn basis bow'd 
As stooping to relieve him. I not doubt 
He came alive to land. 

De la Mare, Walter John 
Rupert Brooke and the 
R4Z6 intellectual imagination 

cop. 2