For England’s War Poet Rupert Brooke, Sex Was a Battlefield, Too

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) was a World War One poet best known for his sonnet “The Soldier,” which opened with these lines: “If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England.” The New Yorker describes him this way: “Upper-class and stiff-upper-lipped, blond-haired and blue-eyed, eager to sacrifice youth and beauty for king and country, Brooke embodied a romantic and remarkably tenacious national fantasy.”

But war wasn’t his only subject matter, it turns out — he also liked to write about love and, especially, lust.  W. B. Yeats famously dubbed Brooke “the handsomest young man in England.” And though he never saw any war action — he died in Greece of a blood infection following a mosquito bite, two days before he has was due to start fighting —  we’re guessing he saw plenty in the bedroom, if this sonnet about sexual desire and conquest is anything to go on. “Libido” appeared in his first book of poems, despite the fact that his publisher considered the phrase “your remembered smell most agony” to be in most bad taste.


by Rupert Brooke

How should I know? The enormous wheels of will
Drove me cold-eyed on tired and sleepless feet.
Night was void arms and you a phantom still,
And day your far light swaying down the street.
As never fool for love, I starved for you;
My throat was dry and my eyes hot to see.
Your mouth so lying was most heaven in view,
And your remembered smell most agony.

Love wakens love! I felt your hot wrist shiver
And suddenly the mad victory I planned
Flashed real, in your burning bending head…
My conqueror’s blood was cool as a deep river
In shadow; and my heart beneath your hand
Quieter than a dead man on a bed.

Want something a little more romantic?
Sylvia Plath’s Ode to Young Love