Rupert Brooke © Getty Images
Rupert Brooke © Getty Images

Rupert Brooke (born August 3, 1887 and died April 23, 1915) died young, leaving his legacy through the idealist sonnets penned during the course of World War One. Arunabha Sengupta writes about the cricketing connections the poet cultivated in his short span of time in this world.

His boyish good looks led WB Yeats to call him ‘the handsomest young man in England’. And those good looks tragically lasted him a lifetime. Rupert Brooke did not get the opportunity to grow old.

Yet, he lived an eventful life.

While travelling Europe as a teenager, Brooke wrote a thesis titled John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama which got him a scholarship at Cambridge. He became a key member of the Bloomsbury group, had bisexual tendencies, and later Virginia Woolf boasted of going skinny-dipping with him in a moonlit pool during their stint at Cambridge.

Later he toured through United States and Canada, writing travel diaries for the Westminster Gazette, sailed back through the South Seas … tarrying long enough to, supposedly, father a daughter with a Tahitian woman. He had romantic involvements with Phyllis Gardner, Cathleen Nesbitt and Noël Olivier.

However, his immortal fame stemmed from the War sonnets published in the Times Literary Supplement, especially The Soldier, which was read from the pulpit of St Paul’s Cathedral on Easter Sunday of 1915.

Brooke was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as temporary Sub-Lieutenant and took part in the Antwerp Expedition in October 1914, and went on the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in February 1915. However, he developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite and died in April 1915.

The tragic untimely death did play its role in cementing his fame as a War Poet.

During his student days, Brooke also played a decent amount of cricket.

Educated at the Rugby School, he was in the cricket eleven of 1906, playing on the Big Side in the school’s home matches. He also participated in the needle match against Marlborough at Lord’s. A slow bowler, he did not do too well at the great ground, scoring a duck and ending with figures of none for 35.

Brooke would look dapper in the peaked light blue cap and light blue shirt of the capped Rugby cricketers. He took 19 wickets that season of 1906, bowling slows. The average he ended with was just over 14, and he got a wicket approximately every 20 balls. Hence, this end-of-season evaluation read a little harsh: “A slow bowler who at times kept a good length and puzzled the batsmen. A safe catch.”

From Rugby, Brooke went to King’s College, Cambridge. It was reported that he was good at rugby and cricket, but only turned out if the team was short.

By then he was perhaps busier in more important activities, such as hobnobbing in the Cambridge Apostles and swimming in the nude with Virginia Woolf.