The mists of memory swirl backwards and scattered poem fragments emerge like flotsam left by a receding tide. Lines from three poems by Rupert Brooke have remained imbedded in my mind through the long years since I was a student in high school. A youth who had not reached the pith of adult understanding, I found a noble patriotism in Brooke’s thought when he wrote, “If I should die think only this of me: that there’s one corner of foreign field that is forever England.” In contrast, in the Old Vicarage at Grantchester are the words “But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester! There’s peace and holy quiet there–” In my young mind, Grantchester epitomized the English countryside Brooke had enlisted in the navy to defend. Of a third poem I read as a reluctant young scholar, memory retained only the title.
I Have Been So Great a Lover, when I read it again, was a compendium, revealing and tedious, of Brooke’s inner self. The curriculum of my high school years was sanitized. There was no biography which revealed his tortured sex life, the succession of lovers, male and female, and the women who spurned him. He did not even have the cleansing of a hero’s death. While sailing to the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, he died of septicaemia caused by a mosquito bite on April 23, 1915. His grave is in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros.
For those whose labour is to criticize rather than to create, the knowledge of Brooke’s personal life diminished the worth of his poetry. A free spirit, however, does not dwell only in the pious. To put it succinctly, a bad man can write good poetry and a good man can write non-poetry, because bad poetry is not poetry at all. I also have been so great a lover.
Wind is kin to a prairie child. I loved to hear it’s bluster wild,
While cradled in a woman’s arms, and warm and safe from all alarms.
Back and forth her rocker swayed. Outside stout walls, the wild wind made
White hillocks out of snow.
When water gurgles under snow. I have ever loved the show
Of a resurrection in the spring. A crocus was the very thing
For a bouquet for my Granny.
A meadowlark, owls at night, geese and cranes in honking flight;
The coming of the mourning doves to sing in duet of their love.
I have loved bird voices.
High the arc of the summer moon, strong the flowers’ sweet perfume
And pleasure in my wakeful hours to walk alone among the flowers
When moonbeams paint them silver.
I loved to read a thousand books, of every title and every look,
And, in the whole, was food for mind and for my ancient soul.
Then I wrote a few of my own.
Of ecstatic music, I love all kinds, from Bach to Lambeth Walk,
From coronach to symphony, from martial bands to swing,
From psalmody to ragtime or any jazzy thing
And I love to sing.
I love my children and the children of my children.
I have loved a woman, only one, still sleeping in the rosy dawn
And I have loved her, voice and touch and scent, in the timeless dark.
And I still do.