Georgian poetry and James Elroy Flecker

Georgian poets got their name from the reign of King George V, who was crowned in 1910. The first volume of Georgian Poetry appeared in 1912, proposed by Rupert Brooke. Four more volumes were published, the last in 1922, edited by Sir Edward Marsh. The Georgians are the poets who wrote the preludes and swan songs before and before the Great War of 1914-18, and some of them are also known as war poets whose later verse was altered under the impact of that war.p

Pre-war Georgian poetry is typified as dreamy, romantic, and escapist compared to the harshness of war depicted by realists. The most enduring Georgian is Flecker, who introduced Orientalism into his verse and died young, though the most famous remains probably Rupert Brooke, who outlived Flecker by three months and died patriotically on St. George’s Day, which is also the shakespeare’s birthday The forgotten Georgians are those who continued in the line of the picturesque descriptions of the field of late romanticism.

The leading Georgians are Lascelles Abercrombie, Hilaire Belloc, Edmund Blunden, Ruert Brooke, William Henry Davies, Ralph Hodgson, John Drinkwater, James Elroy Flecker, Wilfred Wilson Gibson, Robert Graves, Walter de la Mare, Harold Monro, Siegfried Sassoon, JC Squire and Edward Thomas.

One missing name is John Masefield, who wrote earlier and lived longer than most Georgians. He is best known for Salt-Water Ballads (1902) and for his narrative poem The Everlasting Mercy (1910). John Masefield was Poet Laureate from 1930 to 1967.

James Elroy Flecker was almost exactly a contemporary of Rupert Brooke. Both died in 1915: Brooke on a troop transport bound for the Dardanelles and Flecker in a Swiss sanatorium. Both fantasized about death, Flecker more so because he was diagnosed with consumption in 1910, and Elgar’s music could be as lush and seductive as his verse.

We who seduce your pilgrimage with songs

And you saw that Beauty lives even if the lilies die,

We the poets of the old and proud lineage

Who sings to find their hearts, we don’t know why, –

What will we tell you? stories, wonderful stories

Of ships and stars and islands where good men rest,

where the sunset rose never pales,

And winds and shadows fall to the West.

And how to deceive you? death has no rest

Warmer and deeper than the sand of the East

that hides the beauty and luminous faith of those

Who made the Golden Voyage to Samarkand.

(The Golden Journey to Samarkand)

This golden voyage, as Ezra Pound pointed out, took place merely on paper, but Flecker still enjoys a popularity that other Georgians have or have lost. Looking at his brief life and work in more detail:

Flecker’s father was a clergyman and headmaster of Dean Close School, where Flecker was a day boy. He attended Trinity College, Oxford, and also Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied Arabic, Persian, and Turkish before joining the diplomatic service. He served as vice-consul in Constantinople (Istanbul), Smyrna (Izmir), and Beirut from 1910 to 1913; however, his health was poor and he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. When World War I broke out he was not even 30 years old and was not fit for military service. He died five months later in a sanatorium. His grave in Cheltenham, England, bears the epitaph “O Lord, restore his kingdom to the dreamer.”

Flecker’s verse has a lot of sensitivity and often little sense. The Dying Patriot resembles Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier in that it urges the living to pick up where the dead left off, but it lacks the curious English character that Brooke insists on.

There’s a house the British broke into, a long time ago,

Where now the springs of the ocean fall and flow,

And the dead dressed in red and sea lilies on high

Sway when the long winds blow.

Do not sleep, my country: although the night is here, far away

Your children of the morning cry for war:

Fire in the night, oh dreams!

Although she sends you as she sends you, a long time ago,

South of the desert, east of the ocean, north of the snow,

West of these seas colder than the Hebrides I must go

Where the fleet of stars is anchored, and the young star captains shine.

(The dying patriot)

What are these red-robed dead but the noble ancestors who have undergone a radical change? The verse is trance-like and lulling, a mix of amniotic fluid and the tranquility of amnesia. The (patriots) who have gone before and the country itself require the youth (children of the morning) to go to the ends of the earth in imperial service. Meanwhile, the dying patriot herself (why not herself) is about to become part of a constellation as a sign of heroism, to shine warmly forever in the cold night sky. The soul heads west on the path of the dead. ‘Hebrides’ sounds a bit strange, as if Hesperides doesn’t quite fit, and geographical niceties about compass directions have no place in poetry, but it’s not strange when you consider the word ‘British’. This is good native material superimposed on Greek myth. It is the poetry of 1914 and ‘over by Christmas’ and it cheered the Oxbridge volunteers of August for whom a war was but a distant prospect and thrill and a blaze of firefly glory.

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