The power of potential


Georgian poetry and James Elroy Flecker

Georgian poets received 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. 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 subsequent verses were altered under the impact of that war.p

Georgian pre-war poetry is typified as dreamy, romantic, and escapist in comparison to the harshness of war portrayed by realists. The most enduring Georgian is Flecker, who introduced Orientalism into his verse and died young, although 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 picturesque descriptions of the field of late romanticism.

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 before and outlived 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 sanitarium. 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 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 no longer fades,

And winds and shadows fall to the West.

And how to fool you? death has no rest

Warmer and deeper than the sand of the Orient

that hides the beauty and luminous faith of those

Who made the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

(The Golden Journey to Samarkand)

This golden ride, as Ezra Pound noted, was carried out simply on paper, but Flecker still enjoys a popularity that other Georgians have lost or 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 not fit for military service. He died five months later in a sanitarium. His grave in Cheltenham, England, bears the epitaph “O Lord, restore his kingdom to the dreamer.”

Flecker’s verse is highly sensitive and often makes little sense. The Dying Patriot resembles Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier in that he urges the living to pick up where the dead left off, but it lacks the quaint English character Brooke insists on.

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

Where now the springs of the ocean tumble and flow,

And the dead dressed in red and sea lilies on high

Sway when the long winds blow.

Don’t sleep, my homeland: even though the night is here, far away

Your children of the morning cry out for war:

Fire in the night, oh dreams!

Although she sends you as she sends you, long 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 if not noble ancestors who have undergone a radical change? The verse is trance-like and numbing, a mixture of amniotic fluid and the tranquility of amnesia. The (patriots) 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 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 cardinal directions have no place in poetry, but it’s not strange when you consider the word ‘British’. This is some good native material superimposed on the Greek myth. It is the poetry of 1914 and ‘over by Christmas’ and cheered the August Oxbridge volunteers for whom a war was but a distant prospect and excitement and a firefly blaze of glory.


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