While writing my recent piece about Grantchester I had occasion actually to read Rupert Brooke’s lines on life in that village in the days before the first World War.
This was my first real exposure to poetry since leaving school and we didn’t do very much of it then!
We must have done SOMETHING to do with poetry, however, (probably during the two years we had under the tutelage of Mr “Max the molester” Page) because I DO know about things such as Rhyme Schemes, meter, alliteration and so forth. Plus, I fully understand that an Iambic Pentameter is NOT something you use to raise the Devil and cannot think that I would have picked up any of that knowledge anywhere other than an English Literature class.
Anyway, back to Mr Brooke!
Anyone with a very basic knowledge of such things has almost certainly heard of the opening lines of one of his poems and the closing lines of another.
“If I should die, think only this of me.
That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”
This is the beginning of “The Soldier” a poem that was written only weeks before his death on the way to Gallipoli in 1915 and his burial on the island of Skyros. “Be careful what you ask for” seems to be the motto there!
The other lines are:
“Stands the Church clock at ten-to-three,
And is there honey still for tea?”
These end the much longer work “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester” written in Berlin in 1912 during a bout of homesickness.
I must confess that until I found it printed in full in the booklet that my friend picked up at “The Orchard Tearooms” (see previous post) I had never read the “Grantchester” poem right through.
When I started reading it I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the end – there are a number of obscure classical references and even bits of German and Greek in the first half!
As it progresses though it becomes rather more fun, especially when he starts to have little digs at the quirks of villages in the Cambridge area.
Here is a chunk that I found particularly amusing:
“For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there’s none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley, on Christmas Eve.”
I’ll bet he was REALLY popular in all THOSE villages when THAT got published – especially amongst the ladies of Fen Ditton!
Two particular things occur to me about that segment other than that it actually RHYMES – which I like.
The first, and to me the most important thing, is the significant fact that Mr. Brooke did not find it necessary to denigrate in any way the people of the villages of Comberton and Elsworth – from which several lines of the Alfie ancestry originated. I like to think that he regarded those village(r)s as OK but it is, of course, possible that they were either beneath his notice or didn’t EVEN possess the negative attributes of the ones he DID notice!
The second thing is the similarity that the irreverent, bouncy, slightly “sing-song” style bears to the poems that crop up occasionally in stories of my ultimate fictional hero Simon “The Saint” Templar.
While THAT character and his influences on my way of thinking about life is one of the subjects on my list of future articles, I was interested to notice the name of his creator Leslie Charteris in the list, printed in the booklet, of all of the famous people known to have visited The Orchard Tearooms.
I know that a biography of Charteris (or Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin, as he should really be called) exists but I haven’t ever read it. If any of you have, can you let me know whether he credits Rupert Brooke with inspiring his own poetic style?
This has been another of those articles that I started with no particular ending in mind.
HOWEVER, partway through, when jotting down the bits about the Cambridgeshire villages it occurred to me that had Brooke been writing half a century later he MIGHT just have added something along the lines of:
“And Histon girls are hip.
I really dig those styles they wear!”
And if you didn’t get THAT reference – ask your parents!