Friday, February 05, 2010

After All, What's Funnier Than Premature Death?

Sorry for that obnoxious header.  But, truth be told, Father Anonymous has never given much thought to Rupert Brooke.   Oh, we read him for class, years ago, and then again inside a series of buses in Peru and Ecuador.  Both times, we saw what we had been instructed to see:  the legend of a beautiful and gifted young poet, born to travel in the most elite circles, cut down too soon by war.  A latter-day Sidney, yadda-yadda.

What we didn't see was his poem about the fish, pondering the secrets of death an immortality Fish say they have their stream or pond --

But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;       
And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
The future is not Wholly Dry.

It goes on like this, and includes a distinctively piscine vision of Paradise:

Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found ....

Nor did we see the strange one about Old Vicarage in Grantchester.  He wrote it at a cafe in Berlin, so maybe it was just our mood, sitting in the Romanian sports bar this afternoon, eating a salad and watching women's track, but this struck us as one of the funniest poems we have read in years.  Oh, for my old Britannic home, it starts off , and you brace for the standard-issue patriotic stuff -- roses in the garden, punting on the Cam, this sceptr'd isle, some corner of a forgotten field that is forever England.  But then it goes brilliantly astray.  Because England is the best country, and Cambridge the best shire, but -- why Grantchester?  Here's why:

And of that district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
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.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;       
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.

And more and more like this.  The best part, for Egg readers, may be the clerical apparitions:

And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,      
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean…       
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out ....

Here is our new goal for the afterlife.  Paradisal grubs are well and good for them what likes 'em, but we long to be ghosts on a vicarage lawn, dancing on lissom toes, and occasionally nodding to the dean.

So, Rupert Brooke, congratulations:  You're back on our list of readable poets from the Bad Century.  No Uncle Ez, to be sure, but you're better than that hack Wilfred Owen.

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