The Great Lover
I have been so great a lover: filled my days So proudly with the splendour of Love's praise, The pain, the calm, and the astonishment, Desire illimitable, and still content, And all dear names men use, to cheat despair, For the perplexed and viewless streams that bear Our hearts at random down the dark of life. Now, ere the unthinking silence on that strife Steals down, I would cheat drowsy Death so far, My night shall be remembered for a star That outshone all the suns of all men's days. Shall I not crown them with immortal praise Whom I have loved, who have given me, dared with me High secrets, and in darkness knelt to see The inenarrable godhead of delight? Love is a flame:—we have beaconed the world's night. A city:—and we have built it, these and I. An emperor:—we have taught the world to die. So, for their sakes I loved, ere I go hence, And the high cause of Love's magnificence, And to keep loyalties young, I'll write those names Golden for ever, eagles, crying flames, And set them as a banner, that men may know, To dare the generations, burn, and blow Out on the wind of Time, shining and streaming . . . . These I have loved: White plates and cups, clean-gleaming, Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust; Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food; Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood; And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers; And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours, Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon; Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen Unpassioned beauty of a great machine; The benison of hot water; furs to touch; The good smell of old clothes; and other such— The comfortable smell of friendly fingers, Hair's fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers About dead leaves and last year's ferns. . . . Dear names, And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames; Sweet water's dimpling laugh from tap or spring; Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing; Voices in laughter, too; and body's pain, Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train; Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home; And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould; Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew; And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new; And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass;— All these have been my loves. And these shall pass, Whatever passes not, in the great hour, Nor all my passion, all my prayers, have power To hold them with me through the gate of Death. They'll play deserter, turn with the traitor breath, Break the high bond we made, and sell Love's trust And sacramented covenant to the dust. ——Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake, And give what's left of love again, and make New friends, now strangers. . . . But the best I've known Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown About the winds of the world, and fades from brains Of living men, and dies. Nothing remains. O dear my loves, O faithless, once again This one last gift I give: that after men Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed, Praise you, 'All these were lovely'; say, 'He loved.'
This poem is in the public domain.
English poet Rupert Chawner Brooke was born on August 3, 1887. The son of the Rugby School’s housemaster, Brooke excelled in both academics and athletics. He entered his father’s school at the age of fourteen. A lover of verse since the age of nine, he won the school poetry prize in 1905.
A year later, Brooke attended King’s College, Cambridge, where he was known for his striking good looks, charm, and intellect. While at Cambridge, he developed an interest in acting and was president of the University Fabian Society. Brooke published his first poems in 1909. His first book, Poems (Sidgwick & Jackson, Limited), appeared in 1911. While working on his dissertation on John Webster and Elizabethan dramatists, he lived in the house that he made famous by his poem “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.”
Popular in both literary and political circles, Brooke befriended Winston Churchill, Henry James, and members of the Bloomsbury Group, including Virginia Woolf. Although he was popular, Brooke had a troubled love life. Between 1908 and 1912 he fell in love with three women: Noel Olivier, youngest daughter of the governor of Jamaica; Ka Cox, who preceded him as president of the Fabian Society; and Cathleen Nesbitt, a British actress. None of the relationships were long lasting. In 1912, after his third romance failed, Brooke left England to travel in France and Germany for several months.
Upon his return to England, Brooke received a fellowship at King’s College and spent time in both Cambridge and London. In 1912, he compiled an anthology entitled Georgian Poetry, 1911–12, with arts patron and translator Edward Marsh. The Georgian poets wrote in an anti-Victorian style, using rustic themes and subjects, such as friendship and love. While critics viewed Brooke’s poetry as too sentimental and lacking depth, they also considered his work a reflection of the mood in England during the years leading up to World War I.
After experiencing a mental breakdown in 1913, Brooke traveled again, spending several months in the U.S., Canada, and the South Seas. During his trip, he wrote essays about his impressions for the Westminster Gazette, which were collected in Letters From America (McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Ltd., 1916). While in the South Seas, he wrote some of his best poems, including “Tiare Tahiti” and “The Great Lover.” Brooke returned to England at the outbreak of the First World War and enlisted in the Royal Naval Division. His most famous work, the sonnet sequence 1914 and Other Poems (Sidgwick & Jackson, Limited), appeared in 1915.
On April 23, 1915, after taking part in the Antwerp Expedition, Brooke died of blood poisoning from a mosquito bite. He had been en route to Gallipoli with the Royal Navy’s British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, for which he served as a sub-lieutenant. He was buried on the island of Skyros.
Following his death, Brooke, who was already famous, became a symbol in England of the tragic loss of talented youth during the war.
Date Published: 1915-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/great-lover