Although Rupert Brooke was only in Cambridge while he was at the university, I always associate him with my home town. In actual fact, he was born in Rugby in Warwickshire in 1887. His famous poem, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, was known to most school children in the city when I was at school, and so it had been when my mum and aunty were at school before the war. He was certainly a stunningly handsome man, and to us school girls, it seemed terribly romantic rather than tragic that he had died young at the age of twenty-seven. He died during the first World War on the way to the Dardanelles, from an infection caused by a mosquito bite.
I spent most of my teenage summer days on the river and in the river by Grantchester, I know it so well, and the lines ‘beside the river make for you
a tunnel of green gloom, and sleep deeply above; and green and deep the stream mysterious glides beneath, green as a dream and deep as death’ are such a perfect description of the River Granta.
The first stanza of ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ is set in early summer… however summer has only just arrived here in the last few days, in the middle of July… but isn’t this so evocative:
Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow . . .
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
— Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe . . .