The first published book by the popular English poet Rupert Brooke came out in 1911, under the unpretentious title Poems. Among its contents was the rather prophetic, slightly melancholy, and yet hauntingly beautiful love poem "Dust," believed to have been written between December of 1909 and March of 1910.
It is prophetic because the narrative of the poem begins after the narrator's death, much like the greatest heights of Rupert Brooke's own fame and popularity occurred after the poet's untimely death. This narrative choice also gives the poem its melancholy tone, and much of its beauty. A reader inclined to be critical can surely find flaws in it, but in my opinion, its imagery is sufficiently powerful to transcend any such weaknesses.
The first two stanzas of "Dust" might seem oddly familiar to many readers. These lines were adopted wholesale, with no changes and only some slight repetition, into a song recorded by Fleetwood Mac and released on their 1972 album, Bare Trees. They even kept the same title, although I cannot not find any credit given to Rupert Brooke in my copy of the CD insert booklet. "Dust" is the second-to-last track on Bare Trees, serving as an admirable and illuminating companion to the spoken word poem that closes the album, Mrs. Scarrot's Thoughts on a Grey Day.
Before reading any more of my commentary, the reader might prefer to peruse the poem itself, so here it is:
When the white flame in us is gone,
And we that lost the world's delight
Stiffen in darkness, left alone
To crumble in our separate night;
When your swift hair is quiet in death,
And through the lips corruption thrust
Has stilled the labour of my breath -
When we are dust, when we are dust!
Not dead, not undesirous yet,
Still sentient, still unsatisfied,
We'll ride the air, and shine, and flit,
Around the places where we died,
And dance as dust before the sun,
And light of foot and unconfined,
Hurry from road to road, and run
About the errands of the wind.
And every mote, on earth or air,
Will speed and gleam, down later days,
And like a secret pilgrim fare
By eager and invisible ways,
Nor ever rest, nor ever lie,
Till, beyond thinking, out of view,
One mote of all the dust that's I
Shall meet one atom that was you.
Then in some garden hush'd from wind,
Warm in a sunset's afterglow,
The lovers in the flowers will find
A sweet and strange unquiet grow
Upon the peace; and, past desiring,
So high a beauty in the air,
And such a light, and such a quiring,
And such a radiant ecstasy there,
They'll know not if it's fire, or dew,
Or out of earth, or in the height,
Singing, or flame, or scent, or hue,
Or two that pass, in light, to light,
Out of the garden, higher, higher. . . .
But in that instant they shall learn
The shattering ecstasy of our fire,
And the weak passionless hearts will burn
And faint in that amazing glow,
Until the darkness close above;
And they will know - poor fools, they'll know!
One moment, what it is to love.
It was only after several readings that I was able to look past my entrancement with Brooke's verses to offer any meaningful critique. Even now, all I can muster is that some of the rhyme choices might sound odd to a reader's ear today. These still fail to distract me from enjoying his artistry when I read it without looking for such "flaws."
By the time it reaches its conclusion, "Dust" completely transcends its melancholy opening, transforming death itself into a joyously luminous celebration.
Even for the reader not inclined to belief in any form of supernatural afterlife, there is a prophetic element in these words, for the poems of Rupert Brooke, long after his death, still carry the mysterious power to shed new light on love in millions of readers' minds and hearts.
Sources and additional information:
The Rupert Brooke Society: