This Side Of Paradise: Rupert Brooke And The South Seas

‘I want to walk a thousand miles, and write a thousand plays, and sing a thousand poems, and drink a thousand pots of beer, and kiss a thousand girls,’ and, added Rupert Brooke as he made plans to leave England in May 1913 ‘– oh, a million things.’ Seduced by the lure of  far away and exotic lands, Brooke would travel thousands of miles, write several poems, and meet many girls, but only one would truly capture his heart.

Brooke’s often dramatic and largely unsatisfying romantic entanglements, frequently a source of great anguish to him, had contributed to his decision to seek pastures new. His most enduring attachment had been to Ka Cox, whom he met at Cambridge, along with Noel Olivier, yet both women were drawn to other suitors; in Cox’s case, the painter Henry Lamb, and in Olivier’s, the dashing Hungarian poet Ferenc Békássy. Upon learning that Cox hoped to marry Lamb (she did not and would go on to wed the civil servant Will Arnold-Forster in 1918), Brooke suffered a breakdown, whilst visiting Lulworth Cove in Dorset towards the end of 1911 and start of 1912, and a period of precarious mental and physical health ensued. An offer from the Westminster Gazette to pay his travel costs in exchange for a series of articles about America and Canada, appeared to be just the tonic he needed. Perhaps glimpsing the foreboding clouds of war gathering across Europe, Brooke decided to extend his journey to include New Zealand and the South Seas.

Sailing from San Francisco, Brooke arrived in Waikiki in October 1913, before travelling on to Pango in Samoa a month later. Enchanted by the islands, he exclaimed in a letter to his friend Edward Marsh, ‘it’s all true about the South Seas! I get a little tired of it at moments, because I am just too old for Romance, and my soul is seared. But there it is: there it wonderfully is: heaven on earth, the ideal life, little work, dancing, singing and eating, naked people of incredible loveliness, perfect manners, and immense kindness, a divine tropical climate, and intoxicating beauty of scenery.’ Departing for Fiji on the SS Torfua in mid-November, Brooke arrived on the 19th and quickly immersed himself in Fijian culture, even attending the funeral of a Fijian princess who had died from pneumonia. Just before Christmas, Brooke boarded the Niagara and sailed to Auckland, with a trip to Tahiti planned for the January of 1914. Continue reading