This is a poem from one of the so-called “war poets” from the First World War. They are remembered for a variety of reasons. Some, like Sigfried Sassoon, are remembered for their critique of a war which saw considerable loss of life and limb. Given that another world war began some twenty years later, it seemed to many that the first “war to end all wars” was futile and tragic at best; a criminal shame at worst. Others, such as Edward Thomas (e.g. Adlestrop) and Rupert Brooke, are remembered because some of their poetry recalls a golden pre-war age. They may well have been using rose-tinted glasses, but given the turmoil of two world wars and the pervasive fear of the Cold War, I think it understandable.

At Grantchester

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915

(excerpt from “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester”, 1912)

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