A Channel Passage, Rupert Brooke – an analysis



Gut Reaction
This is a bizarre love poem, isn’t it? ‘You stop me being sea-sick’ isn’t up there with the most romantic of phrases I’ve ever heard, and I’ve had some weird boyfriends.

What does it all mean?
The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;

Ah, sea-sickness is a bugger, isn’t it? I presume. I’ve had all the other types of travel-sickness but I can’t remember feeling sick on a boat. Still. Let’s go with it being awful. I love the assonance of rose and rolled, it paints great imagery of being at the mercy of waves. I like the idea of the ‘cold gorge’ – a last minute feast before boarding the ship, or just the last meal, slowly churning in your belly? Knowing it’s building, he has to distract himself quickly.

And could think hard of only one thing–you!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!

Ah, that’s nice, isn’t it? I’m going to vomit if I don’t think of you. How… endearing…

And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
It hurts to think of their beloved? Are we juxtaposing seasickness with lovesickness, which means he is in pain because they’re apart, or are they bittersweet memories of a lost love, or is it a mixture of the two? Good memories can still hurt if you miss someone, yes?

When I first read this line, I misread dole for dull, and that made sense to me – sharp and dull pain from being away from someone you love. But dole? No one is ‘doling out’ the pain here, so I can only assume that he means his ‘destiny’ or his ‘lot’ – it’s his ‘lot’ to be here at sea rather than where he wants to be, with he person he loves.

Now there’s a choice–heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!
Well. I might go out on a limb here and say I don’t think he means a tortured liver as in one of the contraindications listed in travel-sickness medicine advice. If I hear tortured liver I think alcohol! So. Is his choice here, in an effort to distract himself from his rolling stomach, to think about her and have his ‘heart’ hurt, or to get steamingly drunk?

That seasickness versus lovesickness really is a theme here, isn’t it? He can have his sea-sick body and think of the person he loves, or a you-sick soul and not? Well. That seems odd. Because surely either way, he’s going to miss this person AND still be seasick? No? So he will have to have both the sea-sick body and the you-sick soul, yes?

Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Lovely use of the phrasal verb ‘throw up’ there, I enjoyed that very much. I’m weird. I know.

Now. If he forgets his love, is that what’s making him sick? Is he sick at the thought of losing this person? As well as sea-sick?

Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last year’s woe.
Oh, lovely. That’s a very vivid description of the nastiness of vomiting, thank you so much…

He continues the idea of being sea-sick and lovesick, it sounds like he’s remembering a broken relationship to me but then I’m not exactly a ray of sunshine!

And still the sick ship rolls. ‘Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ‘twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.
So the seasickness is still there. He’s got to go through it, unfortunately. Thinking of this person he loves distracts him from being sick, but then he feels sick in a different way because he misses them. What a choice indeed.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Two stanzas of equal length that don’t so much track the train of thought, but describe the lurching ideas of a person struggling with opposing ‘sicknesses’ and wondering how to deal.

It’s a little…I don’t know. It’s a bit comical, it’s a bit yearning, it’s a bit ‘urgh, I’m going to vom’, it’s all of these things.

Suggested rhyme scheme

Similes and metaphors
The tortured liver for drinking heavily perhaps?

Author’s relationship with their subject
Is that not how we all react when reminiscing over lost loves? He’s… yearning. And… churning. Yes.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
There seems very much a Marmite approach to Rupert Brooke’s work. He’s seen as a very patriotic war poet and yet his attempts at Realism, as this poem is, seems to be met with ridicule by some.

Signing off
I love the way the assonance and alliteration frame some of the lines in a way that aids the imagery of a rolling sea.

I actually really like this poem. I think it’s fun, cleverly written and paints a very clear picture – even if the picture of seasickness is not a pleasant one.

I’m trying to think of a scenario when thinking of someone I’m missing has distracted from a real/present pain/thing I don’t like. I feel like it only works if that person is still in my life – if they’ve left, pining after them does nothing but send me into a downward spiral of Bad Thoughts. But hey, whatever works for you, right?

There’s really no hidden meaning in this poem and that is oddly refreshing. I love analysing poetry, it’s a lot of fun, but when there’s one that’s so clear cut, which does not happen often, well. It just makes me smile 🙂



Poets Org

When I read this I think of the song… Here Without You


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