Born: 3rd August 1887 in Rugby, Britain
Died: 23rd April 1915 on Skyros, Greece
Born in 1887, Rupert Brooke experienced a comfortable childhood in a rarified atmosphere, living around - and then attending - the school at Rugby, a famed British institution where his father worked as a housemaster. The boy soon grew into a man whose handsome figure transfixed admirers of either sex: almost six foot tall, he was academically clever, good at sports - representing the school in cricket and, of course, rugby - and disarming in character. He was also highly creative: Rupert wrote verse throughout his childhood, having allegedly gained a love of poetry from reading Browning.
A move to King's College, Cambridge, in 1906 did nothing to dim his popularity - friends included E. M. Forster, Maynard Keynes and Virginia Stephens (later Woolf) - while he broadened into acting and socialism, becoming president of the University's branch of the Fabian Society. His studies in the classics may have suffered as a result, but Brooke moved in elite circles, including that of the famous Bloomsbury set. Moving outside Cambridge, Rupert Brooke lodged in Grantchester, where he worked on a thesis and created poems devoted to his ideal of English country life, many of which formed part of his first collection, simply entitled Poems 1911. In addition, he visited Germany, learning the language.
Mental Problems and Travel
Brooke's life now began to darken, as an engagement to one girl - Noel Olivier - was complicated by his affection for Ka (or Katherine) Cox, one of his fellows from the Fabian society. Friendships were soured by the troubled relationship and Brooke suffered something which has been described as a mental breakdown, causing him to travel restlessly through England, Germany and, on the advice of his Doctor who prescribed rest, Cannes. However, by September 1912 Brooke seems to have recovered, finding companionship and patronage with an old Kings student called Edward Marsh, a civil servant with literary tastes and connections. Brooke completed his thesis and gained election to a fellowship at Cambridge whilst captivating a new social circle, whose members included Henry James, WB Yeats, Bernard Shaw, Cathleen Nesbitt - with whom he was particularly close - and Violet Asquith, daughter of the Prime Minister. He also campaigned in support of Poor law reform, prompting admirers to propose a life in parliament.
In 1913 Rupert Brooke traveled again, first to the United States - where he wrote a series of dazzling letters and more formal articles - and then through islands down to New Zealand, finally pausing in Tahiti, where he wrote some of his more fondly acclaimed poetry. He also found more love, this time with a native Tahitian called Taatamata; however, a shortage of funds caused Brook return to England in July 1914; war broke out a few weeks later.
Rupert Brooke Enters the Navy / Action in North Europe
Applying for a commission in the Royal Naval Division - which he gained easily as Marsh was secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty - Brooke saw action in the defence of Antwerp during early October, 1914. The British forces were soon overrun, and Brooke experienced a marching retreat through devastated landscape before arriving safely in Bruges. This was Brooke's only experience of combat. He returned to Britain awaiting redeployment and, during the next few weeks of training and preparation, Rupert caught flu, the first in a series of wartime illnesses. More importantly for his historical reputation, Brooke also wrote five poems which were to establish him among the cannon of First World War writers, the 'War Sonnets': 'Peace', 'Safety', 'The Dead', a second 'The Dead', and 'The Soldier'.
Brooke Sails to the Mediterranean
On February 27th 1915 Brookes sailed for the Dardanelles, although problems with enemy mines led to a change of destination and a delay in deployment. Consequently, by March 28th Brooke was in Egypt, where he visited the pyramids, partook in the usual training, suffered sunstroke and contracted dysentery. His war sonnets were now becoming famous throughout Britain, and Brooke refused an offer from high command to leave his unit, recover and serve away from the front lines.
Death of Rupert Brooke
By April 10th Brook's ship was on the move again, anchoring off the island of Skyros on April 17th. Still suffering from his earlier ill-health, Rupert now developed blood poisoning from an insect bite, placing his body under fatal strain. He died in the afternoon of April 23rd 1915, aboard a hospital ship in Tris Boukes Bay. His friends buried him under a stone cairn on Skryos later that day, although his mother arranged for a grander tomb after the war. A collection of Brooke's later work, 1914 and Other Poems was published in swiftly after, in June 1915; it sold well.
A Legend Forms
An established and rising poet with a strong academic reputation, important literary friends and potentially career changing political links, Brooke's death was reported in The Times newspaper; his obituary contained a piece purportedly by Winston Churchill, although this section can be read as little more than a recruiting advert. Literary friends and admirers wrote powerful - often poetic - eulogies, establishing Brooke, not as a lovelorn wandering poet and deceased soldier, but as a mythologised golden warrior, a creation which remained in post-war culture.
Few biographies, no matter how small, can resist quoting the comments of W. B. Yeats, that Brooke was "the most handsome man in Britain", or an opening line from Cornford, "A young Apollo, golden haired". Even though some had harsh words for him - Virginia Woolf later commented on occasions when Brooke's puritan upbringing appeared beneath his normally carefree exterior - a legend was formed.