(Poem #1762) 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.
(1914) Note: The first sonnet in Brooke's 1914 sequence Today's poem - challengingly titled "Peace" - marks the first of Brooke's sequence of five World War I sonnets, commonly called the "1914 sequence". ("The Soldier", perhaps his best known poem, is Sonnet V in that sequence.) Back when I ran "The Soldier", I noted that the patriotic tone, filtered through the sensibilities of a post-World-Wars mind, makes these sonnets seem old-fashioned at best, badly dated at worst. "The Soldier" tended towards the former end of the spectrum; "Peace", despite is poetic merits, tends definitely to the latter. Which is not to say that I dislike the poem - indeed, I found the images of renewal and cleansing, the almost palpable feeling of a skin being shed, both finely crafted and powerful. But it would be naive to pretend that a sentiment like "leave the sick hearts that honour could not move" sounds anything but misguided today. An excellent summary from http://www.sonnets.org/wwi.htm captures both sides of the matter perfectly: Although Rupert Brooke's 1914 sonnets received an enthusiastic reception at the time of their publication and the author's death (of blood poisoning), disenchantment with the ever-lengthening war meant a backlash against Brooke's work. These sonnets have been lauded as being "among the supreme expressions of English patriotism and among the few notable poems produced by the Great War" (Houston Peterson), while according to Patrick Cruttwell, "I suspect that these unfortunate poems, through their great vogue at first and the bitter reaction against them later, did more than anything else to put the traditional sonnet virtually out of action for a generation or more of vital poetry in English." But, as you can see here, some writers of the period adapted the sonnet to their war experience, and it is interesting to speculate on whether Brooke's writing would have become as bitter and disillusioned as that of his contemporaries had he lived a few years more. See Harry Rusche's Rupert Brooke page, part of his Lost Poets of the Great War. Also, I feel an essential step towards fully appreciating today's poem is to note its significant personal component - several of the attitudes expressed are thrown into clearer focus when viewed against Brooke's biography. martin [Links] http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/brooke3.html has a few footnotes http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/brooke2.html has more on the Brooke of the 1914 sonnets Poem #280, "The Soldier", has some more discussion of Brooke's war poetry.