‘1. Peace’ – Rupert Brooke – Analysis

I. Peace
Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!
Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there's no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing heart's long peace there
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.
Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)

The 25th of April is ANZAC Day in Australia. It is a very special day of commemoration associated with Australian and New Zealand troops involved in the Gallipoli landings of WW1. And last week it was announced by Biden that the US would be withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan by 9/11 this year. The end of twenty years of involvement against terrorism in that country.

So here is a war poem involving peace in war. It is the first of a sequence of five war sonnets. Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, two other well respected WW1 poets, eventually wrote works extremely critical of the conflict. But Brooke’s poems reflect the early idealism. The war captured the adventurous spirit of the youth fuelled by the recruitment of the day. And Brooke’s poem reflects the attitudes of many young men during the first years of hostilities. Brooke never experienced the horror side of trench warfare. He served in the Royal Navy and died from an infection caused by a mosquito bite on his way to Gallipoli.

Considering the context of this poem and the notion of muscular Christianity. From the Literary Criticism by Robert Means

Begun and practiced at Rugby where Brooke was born and raised, “muscular Christianity” was a late-Victorian public-school notion of cleansing and test of manhood afforded by getting out of doors and getting in the game.

Brooke was a product of “muscular Christianity”; a pre- war poet, expressing the pre-war sentiment of cleansing just as poets as diverse as Robert Graves and Isaac Rosenberg wrote poetry in the early days of the war that celebrated this image of the “Happy Warrior.” Even Siegfried Sassoon’s early poems display this idea of spiritual cleansing afforded by the war, for example his aptly titled ‘Absolution’:

The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes
Till beauty shines in all that we can see.
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise, 
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free. 

So, the octet stresses the hope that going to war would provide something of a cleanliness akin to diving into a swimming pool. Brooke’s personal life had come to something of a hiatus and he was looking for an alternative to the life he had been leading. He had been associated with the Bloomsbury Set and you can clearly see from the last lines of the octet that he hits out against their reluctance to get involved – ‘Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move’.

As Robert Means comments the sextet is all about ‘Peace’ as a declaration of self- realization and self-determination. It is the soldier’s lot to die but it is an acceptable cost and death the worst friend.

Somewhat of an irony in that Brooke finds peace by going to war. I guess it is not easy to find ‘personal peace’ given the job of a soldier.

Rupert Brooke on Wikipedia

Pluck – Eva Dobell – some ANZAC Day words

Pluck

Crippled for life at seventeen,
His great eyes seems to question why:
with both legs smashed it might have been
Better in that grim trench to die
Than drag maimed years out helplessly.

A child – so wasted and so white,
He told a lie to get his way,
To march, a man with men, and fight
While other boys are still at play.
A gallant lie your heart will say.

So broke with pain, he shrinks in dread
To see the ‘dresser’ drawing near;
and winds the clothes about his head
That none may see his heart-sick fear.
His shaking, strangled sobs you hear.

But when the dreaded moment’s there
He’ll face us all, a soldier yet,
Watch his bared wounds with unmoved air,
(Though tell-tale lashes still are wet),
And smoke his Woodbine cigarette.

Eva Dobell (1876 – 1963)

Today is ANZAC Day. The 25th of April is one of Australia’s most important national days. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War at Gallipoli. It is a day of remembrance for those from both countries who have died in any wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

Often war related poetry is from a male perspective. This poem by Eva Dobell is from firsthand experience as a nurse.

Pluck = spirited and determined courage and was certainly needed by many war victims in dealing with horrific wounds at an early age.

S1 – many nurses and medics have thoughts of this nature when seeing the horrors of the condition of their patients. However, recovery even in such adverse conditions is still possible and an on-going life possible albeit a very different life.
S2 – the irony that the soldier falsified his age in order take part in the war and fight for country while others were more circumspect. He was very young and probably out for adventure and without understanding.
S3 – He is about to be dressed and again he shows determined courage in not showing any weakness to the nursing staff.
S4 – He faces his bared wounds as a soldier with unmoved air but the nurse sees the tell-tale suffering undergone in his eyes as he smokes a cigarette. Woodbine was a brand that was cheap and popular with the working class and with soldiers during both World Wars. Smoking was acceptable in the recovery wards.

Eva Dobell on Wikipedia

And here is a link to previous ANZAC Day Posts including the Australian poet Judith Wright.

 The Company of Lovers – Judith Wright – ANZAC Day

 The Company of Lovers

We meet and part now over all the world;
we, the lost company,
take hands together in the night, forget
the night in our brief happiness, silently.
We, who sought many things, throw all away
for this one thing, one only,
remembering that in the narrow grave
we shall be lonely.

Death marshals up his armies round us now.
Their footsteps crowd too near.
Lock your warm hand above the chilling heart
and for a time I live without my fear.
Grope in the night to find me and embrace,
for the dark preludes of the drums begin,
and round us round the company of lovers,
death draws his cordons in.

Judith Wright (1915 -2000)

This poem was written during World War II which brought much separation especially for those travelling from Australia to the various battlefields.

A precious pre-leaving meet between lovers … with no thought of tomorrow … forget the night … for some the long unending night … and those that never returned leave the grave narrow and lonely for any surviving lovers. Today we remember.

There is that foreboding and anticipation of the worst … death draws his cordons in

Another of my favourite Judith Wright poems, again with a cerrtain sense of foreboding, is … ‘Trains’  – Judith Wright