Wednesday, 23 April 2014

'Love has no habitation but the heart'


They say there's a high windless world and strange,
Out of the wash of days and temporal tide,
Where Faith and Good, Wisdom and Truth abide,
'Aeterna corpora', subject to no change.
There the sure suns of these pale shadows move;
There stand the immortal ensigns of our war;
Our melting flesh fixed Beauty there, a star,
And perishing hearts, imperishable Love. . . .

Dear, we know only that we sigh, kiss, smile;
Each kiss lasts but the kissing; and grief goes over;
Love has no habitation but the heart.
Poor straws! on the dark flood we catch awhile,
Cling, and are borne into the night apart.
The laugh dies with the lips, 'Love' with the lover.

This is a poem by Rupert Brooke, who died on 23 April 1915, aged 27. When I first read Rupert Brooke's poetry as a teenager, I thought it a shame that his early death inevitably casts a shadow back over his work - that it's so difficult to separate the romance of a handsome young poet dying in the First World War (on St George's Day, no less), having practically written his own epitaph in 'The Soldier', from the rest of his more characteristic and more interesting poetry, which is many things but never predictable or easy. I thought that disparity was unfair, when I was fourteen years old. Next week I'll turn 28, the age Rupert Brooke never reached, and now I think differently - in fact I rather envy him. As he was keenly aware himself - evident in poems like 'Menelaus and Helen' and 'Sonnet Reversed' - there is much to be said for ending a story before the romance wears off, before youthful potential declines into middle-aged failure.

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