The Deaths of Rupert Brooke and Julian Grenfell
Writing The Times obituary for Rupert Brooke, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, contended that in times of crisis ‘no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable, and the most precious is that which is most freely proffered’. In an age when faith in an afterlife was waning, a freely proffered sacrifice appeared especially virtuous. To praise it was, paradoxically, to insult it—hence the soldier’s insistence, in Brooke’s most famous sonnet, that posterity should remember him strictly according to his own stipulations: ‘think only this of me’. Brooke was a pioneer, understanding that his writings must articulate a new kind of sacrifice. His five sonnets of the sequence ‘1914’ were the first of any significance to be published by a soldier–poet who had seen active service. Dwelling on the reasons to fight and to die, they remained the most influential literary works during the war and afterwards.
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