Continuing on my poetry read of the World War I poets as edited in Max Egremont’s Some Desperate Glory, I’m going to post what I think was Rupert Brooke’s last poem, “Fragment.”
Apparently Brooke wrote this poem on board the ship taking him to the Dardanelles where the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force was to secure the strategic location. There seems to be some muddle as to what actually killed Brooke. Egremont says he was already ill with heat stroke when he succumbed but his Wikipedia entry says he died from sepsis. He also is supposed to have contracted dysentery and have been bitten by insect that gave him blood poisoning. I assume he may have had all those things happen within his last few days. I suspect something gave him a fever that shocked his weakened body.
Brooke died on the 23rd of April, 1915 on board the ship he was on, and you can tell by the poem’s first line he wrote while on board. The poem doesn’t have the bluster of Brooke’s famous Jingoistic poems.
I strayed about the deck, an hour, to-night
Under a cloudy moonless sky; and peeped
In at the windows, watched my friends at table,
Or playing cards, or standing in the doorway,
Or coming out into the darkness. Still
No one could see me.
I would have thought of them
--Heedless, within a week of battle--in pity,
Pride in their strength and in the weight and firmness
And link'd beauty of bodies, and pity that
This gay machine of splendour 'ld soon be broken,
Thought little of, pashed, scattered. . . .
I could but see them---against the lamplight--pass
Like coloured shadows, thinner than filmy glass,
Slight bubbles, fainter than the wave's faint light,
That broke to phosphorous out in the night,
Perishing things and strange ghosts--soon to die
To other ghosts--this one, or that, or I.