Jack’s Naughty Bits: Rupert Brooke, Libido

Pin it

Jack's Naughty Bits

I always feel a certain amount of guilt and queasiness writing about people who died early deaths, especially if, at the time I’m putting pen to paper, I’m already older than they were ever to be. Stranger still if they were authors or artists, and strangest of all if they accomplished in their abbreviated lives more than I am likely to achieve in mine, even if I live to 100.


Rupert Brooke was one such brief, bright flame. His one score and eight–year life was as though scripted for a BBC biography: born in England in 1887, with considerable erudition and Galahad good looks, he entered Cambridge in 1913, wrote a few dozen exquisite poems, joined the Royal Navy to go off to the Great War in 1914 and died in the Aegean seven months later. The artist/soldier is a kind of hero that has not been present in cultures on either side of the Atlantic in decades, but World War I vaunted and cut down many. Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Alan Seeger: all dead, all in their prime.


And though Brooke remains famous primarily for his war poems, he wrote a number of love poems as well. The sonnet below, “Libido,” is his most elegant; its theme is a burning bed–inspired midnight visit to a sleeping paramour. There is little more beautiful than the image of a milky Adonis leaving his tangled sheets to slip into his lady’s bedroom and wake her with a kiss, until we recall Brooke’s fate, and know that only the embracing arms of war awaited him on his final night.


“Libido” by Rupert Brooke

How should I know? The enormous wheels of will

Drove me cold-eyed on tired and sleepless feet.

Night was void arms and you a phantom still,

And day your far light swaying down the street.

As never fool for love, I starved for you;

My throat was dry and my eyes hot to see.

Your mouth so lying was most heaven in view,

And your remembered smell most agony.

Love wakens love! I felt your hot wrist shiver

And suddenly the mad victory I planned

Flashed real, in your burning bending head . . .

My conqueror’s blood was cool as a deep river

In shadow; and my heart beneath your hand

Quieter than a dead man on a bed.

last week next week

Jack Murnighan‘s stories appeared in the Best American Erotica editions of 1999, 2000 and 2001. His weekly column for Nerve, Jack’s Naughty Bits, was collected and released as two books. He was the editor-in-chief of Nerve from 1999 to 2001, before retiring to write full time and take seriously the quest for love.

Introduction ©2000 Jack Murnighan and, Inc.