Rupert Chawner Brooke (middle name sometimes given as Chaucer) (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); however, he never experienced combat at first hand. He was also known for his boyish good looks, which prompted the Irish poet William Butler Yeats to describe him as "the handsomest young man in England".
Brooke was born at 5 Hillmorton Road in Rugby, Warwickshire, the second of the three sons of William Parker Brooke, a Rugby schoolmaster, and Ruth Mary Brooke, née Cotterill. He attended Hillbrow Prep School before being educated at Rugby School. While travelling in Europe, he prepared a thesis entitled "John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama", which won him a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge, where he became a member of the Cambridge Apostles, helped found the Marlowe Society drama club and acted in plays including the Cambridge Greek Play. Brooke made friends among the Bloomsbury group of writers, some of whom admired his talent, while others were more impressed by his good looks. Brooke belonged to another literary group known as the Georgian Poets, and was one of the most important of the Dymock poets, associated with the Gloucestershire village of Dymock, where he spent some time before the war. He also lived in the Old Vicarage, Grantchester (a house now occupied by Cambridge chemist Mary Archer and her husband, the novelist and felon Jeffrey Archer).
Brooke suffered from a severe emotional crisis in 1913, some saycaused by sexual confusion and jealousy, resulting in the breakdown of his long relationship with Ka Cox (Katherine Laird Cox). Intrigue by both Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey is said to have played a part in Brooke's nervous collapse and subsequent rehabilitation trips to Germany.
As part of his recuperation Brooke toured the United States and Canada to write travel diaries for the Westminster Gazette. He took the long way home, sailing across the Pacific and staying some months in the South Seas. Much later it was revealed that he may have fathered a daughter with a Tahitian woman (Taatamata) with whom he seems to have enjoyed his most complete emotional relationship. Brooke fell heavily in love several times, with men and women, although his bisexuality was edited out of his life by his first literary executor. Many more people were in love with him. Brooke was romantically involved with the actress Cathleen Nesbitt and was once engaged to Noel Olivier, whom he met while she was a 15-year-old at the progressive Bedales School.
His accomplished poetry gained many enthusiasts and followers and he was taken up by Edward Marsh, who brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. He was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant shortly after his 27th birthday and took part in the Royal Naval Division's Antwerp expedition in October 1914. He sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 28 February 1915 but developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. He died at 4.46 pm on 23 April 1915 off the island of Lemnos in the Aegean on his way to a battle at Gallipoli. As the expeditionary force had orders to depart immediately, he was buried at 11 pm in an olive grove on the island of Skyros, Greece. The site was chosen by his close friend, William Denis Browne, who wrote of Brooke's death:
His grave remains there today. On 11 November 1985, Brooke was among 16 First World War poets commemorated on a slate monument unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner. The inscription on the stone was written by a fellow war poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."
As a side-note, Rupert Brooke's brother, 2nd Lt. William Alfred Cotterill Brooke was a member of the 8th Battalion London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) and was killed in action near Le Rutoire Farm on the historic Loos battlefield on 14 June 1915, aged 24. He is buried in Fosse 7 Military Cemetery (Quality Street), Mazingarbe, Pas de Calais, France. He had only joined the battalion on 25 May.
The beginning of This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald opens with the quote "... Well this side of Paradise!... There's little comfort in the wise. -Rupert Brooke" from Brooke's poem "Tiare Tahiti" final line. Brooke's poem "A Channel Passage," with its vivid description of seasickness, is used for comic effect in a third season episode of the television series M*A*S*H. Corporal Radar O'Reilly reads the poem to a nurse he hopes to impress, with surprising results. Also, Radar pronounces the poet's name as "Ruptured Brooke." Part of Brooke's poem "Dust" is used as the lyric for a song by the same title, composed by Danny Kirwan and recorded by Fleetwood Mac on their 1974 album Bare Trees. Brooke is not credited on the album.