Rupert Brooke’s “Tiare Tahiti”

Rupert Brooke

Tiare Tahiti

Mamua, when our laughter ends,
And hearts and bodies, brown as white,
Are dust about the doors of friends,
Or scent ablowing down the night,
Then, oh! then, the wise agree,
Comes our immortality.
Mamua, there waits a land
Hard for us to understand.
Out of time, beyond the sun,
All are one in Paradise,
You and Pupure are one,
And Tau, and the ungainly wise.
There the Eternals are, and there
The Good, the Lovely, and the True,
And Types, whose earthly copies were
The foolish broken things we knew;
There is the Face, whose ghosts we are;
The real, the never-setting Star;
And the Flower, of which we love
Faint and fading shadows here;
Never a tear, but only Grief;
Dance, but not the limbs that move
Songs in Song shall disappear;
Instead of lovers, Love shall be;
For hearts, Immutability;
And there, on the Ideal Reef,
Thunders the Everlasting Sea!

And my laughter, and my pain,
Shall home to the Eternal Brain.
And all lovely things, they say,
Meet in Loveliness again;
Miri’s laugh, Teipo’s feet,
And the hands of Matua,
Stars and sunlight there shall meet,
Coral’s hues and rainbows there,
And Teura’s braided hair;
And with the starred ‘tiare’s’ white,
And white birds in the dark ravine,
And ‘flamboyants’ ablaze at night,
And jewels, and evening’s after-green,
And dawns of pearl and gold and red,
Mamua, your lovelier head!
And there’ll no more be one who dreams
Under the ferns, of crumbling stuff,
Eyes of illusion, mouth that seems,
All time-entangled human love.
And you’ll no longer swing and sway
Divinely down the scented shade,
Where feet to Ambulation fade,
And moons are lost in endless Day.
How shall we wind these wreaths of ours,
Where there are neither heads nor flowers?
Oh, Heaven’s Heaven! — but we’ll be missing
The palms, and sunlight, and the south;
And there’s an end, I think, of kissing,
When our mouths are one with Mouth. . . .

‘Taü here’, Mamua,
Crown the hair, and come away!
Hear the calling of the moon,
And the whispering scents that stray
About the idle warm lagoon.
Hasten, hand in human hand,
Down the dark, the flowered way,
Along the whiteness of the sand,
And in the water’s soft caress,
Wash the mind of foolishness,
Mamua, until the day.
Spend the glittering moonlight there
Pursuing down the soundless deep
Limbs that gleam and shadowy hair,
Or floating lazy, half-asleep.
Dive and double and follow after,
Snare in flowers, and kiss, and call,
With lips that fade, and human laughter
And faces individual
Well this side of Paradise! . . .
There’s little comfort in the wise.

The second-last line of this poem gave the title to F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s first novel, This Side of Paradise. When I was young, I loved the novel and the poem both, and reread them innumerable times. It’s probably not possible to say how much experiences — hero worship and longing — like this form our characters and stay with us as adults, in some form or other. Sophisticates think of them as juvenalia that we outgrow, leaving no trace. I disagree. Admittedly I do remember a few things I’m sorry now that I admired when young. But I still see a lot of point to most of the movies, music, pictures, and books I loved then, and I’m immensely grateful to the artists who made them — even in cases where I’ve now find people I see even more in. Some, though, like Brooke and Fitzgerald, still move me and could never be replaced.

The first two stanzas of this poem present a sharply drawn picture of the Christianized Platonist beliefs that Brooke had probably been taught by Edwardian descendants of the Victorian clergymen I mentioned in Socrates — running his hand through Phaedo’s hair:

Never a tear, but only Grief;
Dance, but not the limbs that move
Songs in Song shall disappear;
Instead of lovers, Love shall be;

These lines are a poignant, vivid picture of notions that Brooke’s third stanza rejects in equally vivid imagery:

Hasten, hand in human hand

The point of my earlier post was much the same as Tiare Tahiti, although I wasn’t explicitly thinking of Brooke at that time — or of my Plato post when I thought now of posting this poem. As I just mentioned, my youthful enthusiasm for writers like Brooke came from natural affinities that those writers had to words to make conscious for me, a permanent, natural part of my mental equipment.

I wanted in the Socrates post to deny the simplistic view of Plato that Brooke had been taught. I don’t think Plato intended to say what people have turned him into; in fact, I think he intended to disprove such things — to the small extent he ever was conclusive about anything. When Plato wrote about the forms, he did want to point to something and get us to recognize realities that we’re normally blind to. But what he thought about them was deeper and subtler than what Brooke rejects in this poem. If anything, Plato agreed with Brooke:

Wash the mind of foolishness

See also More Rupert Brooke: “The Great Lover”.

There are biographies of Rupert Brooke at Wikipedia and at Representative Poetry Online has an account of the history of Tiare Tahiti.

Readers of this entry might also enjoy Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.”

This entry was posted in Being human, Plato, Poetry, Quotations and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rupert Brooke’s “Tiare Tahiti”

  1. teaira says:

    god, i love this. i wish i knew how to pronounce the title. “tiare”…i have a feeling it doesn’t sound like my own name. a little help please? great site :)



  2. efarbstein says:

    Beautiful poem, and great analysis. Like you, I found it in my youth through This Side of Paradise.

    I see this poem as a yearning to escape the confines of the physical world for the beauty of an edenic metaphysical one. This is described in the lines about physical displays of emotion and their subsequent transcendence to the metaphysical; e.g. “Never a tear but only Grief”, “Dance, but not the limbs that move”, “feet to ambulation fade” (this is, by the way, one of my favourite lines in all of literature; the mental imagery of the concrete, physical “feet” fading to the abstract “ambulation” is chillingly beautiful).

    I disagree with you on one point– I don’t see “Hasten, hand in human hand” as a rejection of the metaphysical world described in the first stanza, but rather a description of the journey to reach that world. Despite the feelings we may be moved too through love or art, we are still a part of the “crumbling stuff” of this human, physical world. We can’t do anything besides “hasten” towards it, exploring the boundaries of this physical world through relations, “hand in human hand”.

    It’s a word that is often overused, but I can’t think of a better one to describe this poem besides beautiful. It’s both aesthetic beauty, in the swaying cadence of the rhythm, and sublime beauty in the transcendental world the poem creates. Such a shame that Brooke is often written off as a superficial romantic, or a WWI poet; this poem is evidence that he is much, much more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s