Saturday, 26 December 2015

Native Son

A. E. Stallings reports from Skyros during the centennial of Rupert Brooke’s death on the Greek island.
All around town the handsome young face of Rupert Brooke gazed out from posters, with announcements of a photographic exhibit at the elementary school, as well as other events. On them, he is described simply as “Rupert Brooke, the Great English Poet.” There was something touching in this, as the official English contingent seemed less certain of how to place him among the ranks of poets, eager instead to set him in historical context.

The morning after the village feast, back at my spotless and cheerful seaside hotel, over a pastoral breakfast of sharp salty goat cheese, creamy sheep’s yoghurt with local thyme honey, fresh bread, and a boiled new-laid egg or two, I talked a bit with the lady at reception about what Rupert Brooke meant to the island. (She was busy supervising the dressing of her son, Yiorgaki, in native costume: baggy black britches, upturned shoes, embroidered vest, and a flat round black hat set at a rakish angle.) Also referring to him as “the Great English Poet,” she said, “We learned his poems at school” and showed me a tattered book which contained a biography of Brooke in Greek and English, and his poems translated into Greek by Costas Ioannou. As with many of the islanders, she was somewhat apologetic that Brooke had died on Skyros but was quick to point out that he could hardly have been buried in a better place, mourned here as a native son by the whole island.

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