Rupert Brooke

August 3

Rupert Brooke (1887)

It was on this date, August 3, 1887, that the Edwardian British poet W.B. Yeats called "The most handsome man in England," Rupert Brooke was born in Rugby. He was educated at Rugby School (where his father was housemaster) and King's College, Cambridge, distinguishing himself as both student and athlete. He was popular on account of his good looks and eventually counted among his friends E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, and Edward Thomas.

His poetry reflected the good times had by the upper crust in England before World War One. His 1914 and Other Poems (1915) shows him to be a freethinker, especially in "Heaven," which satirizes the Christian myth:

...Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
...And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
...But somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
...And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.
Other poems shed doubt on immortality, for example, "Mutability":
Dear, we know only that we sigh, kiss, smile;
Each kiss lasts but the kissing; and grief goes over;
Love has no habitation but the heart.
Poor straws! on the dark flood we catch awhile,
Cling, and are borne into the night apart.
The laugh dies with the lips, `Love' with the lover.
Had Brooke lived longer, his romanticizing of warfare might have worn thin, and his occasional poetic references to God might have completed their obvious move toward Agnosticism. As an officer in the British Army, Brooke sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on February 28, 1915. He became ill from an insect bite left untreated. Off the island of Lemnos in the Aegean, on his way to the battle at Gallipoli, Rupert Brooke died on 23 April 1915. The 27-year-old poet was buried on the island of Skyros.

Want to comment on this essay? Send me an e-mail!


Etienne Dolet

Étienne Dolet (1509)

Also on this date, August 3, 1546, Étienne Dolet, a printer of books critical of religion, was burned alive for his opinions. Dolet was born in Orléans in 1509, also on 3 August, possibly into a family of wealth and rank.

Dolet studied in Paris and Padua, served with the ambassador to Venice, and wrote Latin love poems. He returned to France to study law at Toulouse, but was thrown into jail during a political dispute in which he happened to be on the wrong side. Released, and under the protection of Francis I, Dolet published his own writings and the writings of others until, in 1542, he was again imprisoned — this time for Atheism, although his writings were more Protestant than Atheist.

The bishop of Tulle got Dolet released; he was imprisoned again in 1544, but managed to escape. In traveling to a location where he could print letters in defense of his ideas, the queen of Navarre had Dolet arrested. He was branded a relapsed Atheist by the theological faculty of the Sorbonne. He was tortured, strangled and then burned in the Place Maubert with his books — a martyr to free thought and free speech. A statue of Étienne Dolet was erected on the Place Maubert in 1889.

Want to comment on this essay? Send me an e-mail!


Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
Wordcount 566