For February, I really like a few pieces by Rupert Brooke, the famous early British ‘Great War’ poet. This month is still so burdened under winter for much of the country, and except for Mardi Gras in the south, the only little brightness is Valentine’s Day. I think that winter after Christmas is a time to endure. It’s difficult, quiet, snowy and there’s often little sun.
In this vein, I like poems that recognize this dark and severe reality of life and yet still offer hope and the promise of the future spring. I think even unconsciously the difference in the cold dead earth of winter is hard to see, despite most people not being farmers or Amish. I think it’s important not to be disaffected from the earth itself, from creation and real beauty.
Brooke is also a great lead-in to Shelley and the more difficult poets. He has an easy way of writing that still calls to mind the heights of Romantic era verse. Brooke is part of a strain of semi-Imagist early-Modernist poetry, apart from his war poetry, and I find him very lovely. Like a more accessible Lord Tennyson or Byron.
Second Best Here in the dark, O heart; Alone with the enduring Earth, and Night, And Silence, and the warm strange smell of clover; Clear-visioned, though it break you; far apart From the dead best, the dear and old delight; Throw down your dreams of immortality, O faithful, O foolish lover! Here's peace for you, and surety; here the one Wisdom -- the truth! -- "All day the good glad sun Showers love and labour on you, wine and song; The greenwood laughs, the wind blows, all day long Till night." And night ends all things. Then shall be No lamp relumed in heaven, no voices crying, Or changing lights, or dreams and forms that hover! (And, heart, for all your sighing, That gladness and those tears are over, over. . . .) And has the truth brought no new hope at all, Heart, that you're weeping yet for Paradise? Do they still whisper, the old weary cries? "'MID YOUTH AND SONG, FEASTING AND CARNIVAL, THROUGH LAUGHTER, THROUGH THE ROSES, AS OF OLD COMES DEATH, ON SHADOWY AND RELENTLESS FEET, DEATH, UNAPPEASABLE BY PRAYER OR GOLD; DEATH IS THE END, THE END!" Proud, then, clear-eyed and laughing, go to greet Death as a friend! Exile of immortality, strongly wise, Strain through the dark with undesirous eyes To what may lie beyond it. Sets your star, O heart, for ever! Yet, behind the night, Waits for the great unborn, somewhere afar, Some white tremendous daybreak. And the light, Returning, shall give back the golden hours, Ocean a windless level, Earth a lawn Spacious and full of sunlit dancing-places, And laughter, and music, and, among the flowers, The gay child-hearts of men, and the child-faces O heart, in the great dawn!
V. The Soldier [from 1914] If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England's, breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home. And think, this heart, all evil shed away, A pulse in the eternal mind, no less Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given; Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day; And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Editor’s Note: We can be nothing but delighted by these selections. But more than that are Katie’s astute comments about the pieces. Want to start a poetry class, Kate?