Friday, January 13, 2012

If you Like Downton Abbey, You'll Love Rupert Brooke

I was a fan of Rupert Brooke. What impressionable young girl wouldn't be? So beautiful, so gifted, so doomed. He wrote deathless poetry and then was killed in The Great War. In the old family cottage at The Ledge — a wide place in the St. Croix River near St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, where once there was a seaport and now there are cottages — one of the books was a volume of Rupert Brooke's poetry. Possibly a first edition. It had a blue cloth cover and used to belong to my great-aunt Kathleen, after whom I was named.

When I was fourteen I used to lie around on the moldy-smelling day bed at the cottage at The Ledge when the tide was out reading Rupert Brooke, listening to recorded Strauss waltzes, and wrecking my teeth with MacIntosh's Taffy. What bliss.

After I was grown my mother and I were visiting one of my other great aunts, the one who was then in possession of the cottage and all that it contained. I came across the book on a low shelf, covered with dust, unread, unloved. "Oh, look," I said to my mother. "Rupert Brooke's book of poetry."

"Take it. Steal it," my mother said. It was the only thing she ever advised me to steal. I had a friend once whose mother used to take her to the supermarket, where they would both slip expensive cuts of meat into their pockets and underwear, but my mother was not that sort of person.

So I took it. When I got it home a dead moth fell out of the back cover, a miller, one of those big things. Someone must have squooshed it there on purpose. But the book was still full of deathless poetry. Here's one of my favorites:

V. The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Kate Gallison


  1. If I should die was one of my favorites as a teenager too.

  2. Kate, that was my favorite of his poems too. It is so ROMANTIC!

    I am a huge fan of Downton. The PBS website has a quiz for fans to find out which character from the series they would be. I am Robert, Earl of Grantham. He's a man, but I think it's right about my motivations. Here's the link. Take the quiz and see what it says about you.

  3. Annamaria, I've taken it twice, and I'm still Lady Sybil. Now I'm looking around for the chauffeur.

  4. Like your piece, Kate. Love Downton Abbey and all stories set in the Great Country Houses before and after the Great War. It's all those characters under one roof (very unlike the Brooklyn neighborhood I grew up in). Especially good if murder occurs on the premises. Why I love Charles Todd's Scotland Yard Insp. Ian Rutledge's cases and Rennie Airth's three great Insp. John Madden mysteries (The Blood-Dimmed Tide, etc.).