April is National Poetry Month. This year also marks the centennial of poet Rupert Brooke’s death on April 23, 1915. He was twenty-seven years old and became a symbol of Lost Youth in the Great War. In his short life, he wrote some of the most famous poems of his generation. His work took on a deeper meaning in view of his tragic death. King’s College, Cambridge just announced an award of about $650,000 that will allow the purchase a collection of Rupert Brooke manuscripts, the last in private hands. The letters and other documents reveal a more complicated and less exalted figure than the “young Apollo” lost too soon. The British newspapers have run several stories today on the centennial of Brooke’s death with headlines calling Brooke a “cad” and “womanizer.” Judge for yourself by reading the poet’s work and a few fascinating biographies. Here are five books by and about Rupert Brooke.
“The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke” includes some of his best known poems. “The Dead” and “The Soldier” with its immortal lines “If I should die think only this of me,” appear in this collection along with Brooke’s earlier work and other lyrical gems. Published in 1915, the book was a huge success for a poetry collection in its day. When all else is stripped away, the poetry speaks for itself. It may be old-fashioned and it is likely had he lived that Rupert Brooke the poet would be forgotten by now if propagandists hadn’t exploited his death and image. Still, the poems in this collection demonstrate the poet’s considerable skill.
“Letters from America” is a fascinating collection by the poet written as he travelled through the US and Canada in 1913. The letters were written for the Westminster Gazette and capture Brooke’s impressions of the New World. They also reveal a good deal about Brooke’s own character as he travels across a continent.
Several biographies of Rupert Brooke have been released in time for the centennial of his death. “The Second I Saw You: The True Love Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner” by Lorna C. Beckett will be released on May 15, 2015. The relationship, previously unknown, came to light with letters and a memoir found in the British Library in 2000. The author is the chair of the Rupert Brooke Society.
“Life, Death and Myth: Rupert Brooke” by Nigel Jones reveals the more troubled and troubling sides of Brooke’s character. Released in February 2015, the book pulls no punches when it comes to the complicated poet. The author notes the misogyny, anti-Semitism and mental instability that myth-makers chose to sweep under the rug when transforming Brooke into a symbol of Lost Youth.
“Forever England: The Life of Rupert Brooke” by Mike Read was released in January 2015 in an updated edition to include the latest biographical information about the poet. The Rupert Brooke that emerges from this biography is a more complicated and troubled human being than earlier biographers have presented. Author Mike Read is the founder of the Rupert Brooke Society, so he is perhaps a bit biased in favor of the poet, who we should all remember was in the end just another flawed human being with a talent for writing verse.