Sunday Poetry – A E Housman

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ll be featuring Housman’s A Shropshire Lad here for the next few weeks. Even though the poems were published in 1896, for me, many of them are inescapably connected to WWI. I think it’s because several of the poems were set to music by George Butterworth, who was killed in 1916. I recently listened to a radio documentary about some of the composers involved in the War which reminded me of these poems. I’ve also become addicted to BBC Radio’s drama series, Home Front, which is set in Folkestone during WWI & is ambitiously planned to run for the next four years, with a 15 min episode every weekday. I’ve been catching up with the omnibus episodes, thanks to Darleen at Cosy Books, & I’m completely addicted!

The subject matter of some of the poems is very melancholic as well, almost prophetic, as in one of my favourites, The Lads in Their Hundreds. The song setting by Butterworth is just beautiful &, of course, no one can sing it like Bryn Terfel.

The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair,
There’s men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold,
The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there,
And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old.

There’s chaps from the town and the field and the till and the cart,
And many to count are the stalwart, and many the brave,
And many the handsome of face and the handsome of heart,
And few that will carry their looks or their truth to the grave.

I wish one could know them, I wish there were tokens to tell
The fortunate fellows that now you can never discern;
And then one could talk with them friendly and wish them farewell
And watch them depart on the way that they will not return.

But now you may stare as you like and there’s nothing to scan;
And brushing your elbow unguessed-at and not to be told
They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,
The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.

5 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – A E Housman

  1. To my mind much of the melancholy and the yearning lie in the cadence of the verse…it is so subtle and so quiet that it easy to miss how amazing it is. There are so many lines that make me feel beauty and sadness and love and longing:
    I know not if it rains, my love ,
    In the land where you do lie

    We'll to the woods no more
    The laurels all are cut

    and of course:
    In valleys of springs and rivers,
    By Ony and Teme and Clun

    breaks your heart, doesn't it??


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