Rupert Chawner Brooke (3 August 1887 – 23 April 1915) was an English poet known for his idealistic war sonnets written during the First World War, especially "The Soldier". He was also known for his boyish good looks, which were said to have prompted the Irish poet W. B. Yeats to describe him as "the handsomest young man in England".
"These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth."
"If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England."
His poetry, with its unabashed patriotism and graceful lyricism, was revered in a country that was yet to feel the devastating effects of two world wars. Brooke's early death only solidified his image as "a golden-haired, blue-eyed English Adonis," as Doris L. Eder notes in the <i>Dictionary of Literary Biography</i>, and among those who lauded him after his death were writers Virginia Woolf and Henry James and British statesman Winston Churchill.
In the decades after World War I, critics reacted against the Brooke legend by calling his verse foolishly naive and sentimental. Despite such extreme opinions, most contemporary observers agree that Brooke—though only a minor poet—occupies a secure place in English literature as a representative of the mood and character of England before World War I.
On April 10, he sailed with his unit to Greece, where they anchored off Skyros. There, Brooke developed a fatal case of blood poisoning from an insect bite; he died on April 23, 1915, aboard a hospital ship, two days before the Allies launched their massive, ill-fated invasion of Gallipoli.
Rupert Brooke saw his only action of World War I during the defense of Antwerp, Belgium, against German invasion in early October 1914. Brooke subsequently returned to Britain to await redeployment, where he caught the flu during the training and preparation. While recovering, Brooke wrote what would become the most famous of his war sonnets, including 'Peace', 'Safety', 'The Dead', and 'The Soldier.'
Brooke was a protégé of Eddie Marsh, Private Secretary to Winston Churchill and a leading figure in literary and cultural circles. Brooke and Marsh together conceived the idea of the influential Georgian Poetry anthologies, in which some of the war poems of Graves, Sassoon and Nichols first appeared. Brooke volunteered for active service at the outbreak of war in August 1914 and, with the help of Marsh and Churchill, gained a commission in the Royal Naval Division.
After experiencing a mental breakdown in 1913, Brooke traveled again, spending several months in America, Canada, and the South Seas. During his trip, he wrote essays about his impressions for the <i>Westminster Gazette</i>, which were collected in <i>Letters From America</i> (1916). While in the South Seas, he wrote some of his best poems, including "Tiare Tahiti" and "The Great Lover."
Brooke was strikingly good looking – ‘the handsomest young man in England’, according to Yeats. He had a difficult relationship with a dominant mother and a complex personality, which led to a number of troubled sexual and emotional relationships with both men and women.
The son of the Rugby School's housemaster, Brooke excelled in both academics and athletics. He entered his father's school at the age of fourteen. A lover of verse since the age of nine, he won the school poetry prize in 1905. A year later, he attended King's College, Cambridge, where he was known for his striking good looks, charm, and intellect. While at Cambridge, he developed an interest in acting and was president of the University Fabian Society.