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The Beginning -- Rupert Brooke

(Poem #972) The Beginning
 Some day I shall rise and leave my friends
 And seek you again through the world's far ends,
 You whom I found so fair
 (Touch of your hands and smell of your hair!),
 My only god in the days that were.
 My eager feet shall find you again,
 Though the sullen years and the mark of pain
 Have changed you wholly; for I shall know
 (How could I forget having loved you so?),
 In the sad half-light of evening,
 The face that was all my sunrising.
 So then at the ends of the earth I'll stand
 And hold you fiercely by either hand,
 And seeing your age and ashen hair
 I'll curse the thing that once you were,
 Because it is changed and pale and old
 (Lips that were scarlet, hair that was gold!),
 And I loved you before you were old and wise,
 When the flame of youth was strong in your eyes,
 - And my heart is sick with memories.
-- Rupert Brooke
Like Shakespeare, Brooke dwelt in endless detail on love, time and their
interrelationships, though his stance was often diametrically opposed to the
former's -

    And seeing your age and ashen hair
    I'll curse the thing that once you were,
    Because it is changed and pale and old

is a far cry from "Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth".

However, to dismiss today's poem as a disappointed turning-away from an old
and no-longer-attractive love[1] is to oversimplify it. "The Beginning" is
far more complex than that, capturing the conflict of the poet's emotions as
life clashes against memory to the latter's detriment. There is also the
distinct impression that the poet wishes he didn't feel the way he did, as
opposed to merely wishing that his beloved were young and fair forever,
which makes me appreciate the poem a lot more than I do some of Brooke's

[1] which is not an entirely unfair judgement - several of Brooke's poems
*do* reduce to that sentiment

Today's poem is also interesting in its use of tenses, ranging through both
past and future, from "you whom I found so fair" to "I'll curse the thing
that once you were". This adds to its richness - the poet is not simply
lamenting the vanished "flame of youth", he is *anticipating* lamenting it,
knowing both that he is doomed to search for his lost love, and that his
search shall end in pain. And finally, he drops into present tense to wrap
the poem up - but his heartsickness is caused by an imagined future, not a
remembered past.

The verse fits the contents well - just flowing enough to carry along the
sense of reverie, just broken enough to reveal the pain and passion with
which that reverie is fraught. The parenthetical lines and the short third
line are used to good effect to punctuate and structure the poem's shifting
tenses, as are the explicit temporal references with which the poem is
laced. This is not, perhaps, as pleasing or as powerful a poem as some of
Brooke's, but it has a definite beauty to it.




Brooke poems on Minstrels:
  Poem #514 "The Chilterns"
  Poem #280 "The Soldier"
  Poem #589 "Sonnet Reversed"
  Poem #847 "On the Death of Smet-Smet, the Hippopotamus-Goddess"

And the referenced Shakespeare poem:
  Poem #219 "Full many a glorious morning have I seen"

73 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Aamir Ansari said...

Is this poem not also about seeking maturity in love, about a face "old and wise" and the cursing of "the thing that once you were". With the passing of sullen years and the mark of pain, things change and yet even in the sad half-light of the evening, the face of love remains just that.
Similarities to Yeats' John Kinsella's Lament for Mrs Mary Moore are perceptible and enrich the experience of the poem.


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