Friday, May 18, 2018

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

A Shropshire Lad 
XXXII

From far, from eve and morning 

And yon twelve-winded sky, 
The stuff of life to knit me 
Blew hither: here am I. 

Now — for a breath I tarry 
Nor yet disperse apart — 
Take my hand quick and tell me, 
What have you in your heart. 

Speak now, and I will answer; 
How shall I help you, say; 
Ere to the wind's twelve quarters 
I take my endless way.

– A. E. Housman (1859-1936)


I featured Housman here a couple of years ago, and earlier here. He's one of my favourite poets, one of the few whose poems I sometimes get "on the brain" – an expression more usually applied to songs (before someone invented "earworm", that is). This poem is one that arrives in my mind now and then, during the many years since I first read it.

Some of the language, like "yon" and "hither", is old-fashioned now, but essentially it is simple, straightforward language, not a wasted word. The ballad form is also simple – with, in this case, perfect rhyme scheme, rhythmic pattern (rather than metre) and syllable count. The music is lovely; and the concepts are profound.  I think he's a great master.

He was at one time very well-known. Some of you may be familiar with his work; to others it might well be new.

In his life he was a noted classical scholar, and apparently rated his own poetry as secondary to that. Or perhaps he just regarded them as too different to compare: he is on record as declaring that poetry should appeal to the emotions, not the intellect. And the academic work was his bread-and-butter, after all. He was a Professor of Latin, first at University College London, and thereafter at Trinity College, Cambridge. 

Only two books of his poems were published in his lifetime, A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems. The first in particular, though a slow starter, became much loved, and has never entirely lost its popularity. A number of those poems have been set to music. Last Poems was an immediate success. After his death, his brother posthumously published More Poems, and later the Complete Poems. His works are still in print. I've just bought this illustrated Kindle edition from Amazon Australia (at a price I couldn't resist) after spotting it in my searches:




Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).

18 comments:

  1. I do love this poem, especially the "yon twelve-winded sky". How glorious a line that is! He is a well known poet, for someone with just two books out at the time of his death. I am glad his complete works were gathered together post humously. Thanks for this, Rosemary. A great start to the day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies

    1. Yes, that is a glorious line! And I love the last two lines also, which bring it full circle.

      Delete
  2. I can see where you would be revisited by this lovely piece, from time to time ~ very melodic ~ and the lines: so heartfelt. Back at the beginning of time, when I was in grade school, we had to memorize poetry - though, we did get to pick the poems we wanted to commit to memory. Many of the lines from those poems come to me, still. Poetry placed in memory in a gift that you give yourself - that lasts a lifetime. Thanks for this, Rosemary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't recall stuff I memorised at school – perhaps because we were not given any choice of poems – but many others which I found for myself still linger. And, good point, they are usually melodic: Housman of course, and Dylan Thomas, Yeats, Plath, some Tennyson and Arnold ... and the old favourite, Anon.

      Delete
  3. I taught Loveliest of Trees by A.E. Housman in school. The poem was liked by the girls. Love this one specially the lines: The stuff of life to knit me / Blew hither: here am I. Thanks for the post Rosemary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the poem you taught is perhaps his most famous, because most loved.

      In this one I like the suggestion that the soul's most urgent need while we are here is to connect with another.

      Delete
  4. Thank you for posting a Housman poem, Rosemary. I too am taken by the 'twelve-winded sky', which I see as a wind for every month of the year. I love the lines:
    'The stuff of life to knit me
    Blew hither: here am I'.
    I also like the way the poem moves from 'wind' to 'blow' and then to 'breath'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a nice thought, a wind for every month. But he was referring to the ancient understanding of wind directions (used particularly by sailors and farmers; now replaced by compass points, which are usually eight). They were East, North, West, South, and between them North-east, North-west, South-west, South-east, and between them again Nor-nor-east, Nor-nor-west, Sou-sou-west and Sou-sou-east.

      Delete
  5. Reading Houseman and many other famous poets I often feel quite ashamed that I have posted some of my poems of such puerility (...long sigh here) Oh well, at least I tried.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know the feeling! Unfortunately we can't all be great. But your latest is very lovely, and your poems give great pleasure to your readers. Remember how, in the beginning, one thought, "Oh, if only one of my poems could reach and move one person, I'd be happy"? But then we want more, and more, each goal achieved leading to a new one ... which is not a bad thing, as it keeps us striving to write the best we can. What you and I write may not live forever, but no-one can be the judge of that in their own lifetime. We'll have to be happy with touching some hearts now, and leave the rest to Fate.

      Delete
  6. this is real craft, the lines, the rhymes, the syllabic count.
    i think i did not study Housman in school, nor did i look him up on my books, but yes, i think this is a classic. Thank you, Rosemary, for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I really enjoyed this poem, Rosemary. It is good to read classical poetry on occasion. I enjoyed the detailed profile of the poet you shared. Amazing that there were only two books of his poetry in his lifetime. That Kindle edition you bought, Rosemary, must be delightful. You will always have it with you...on the kindle...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I love being able to take my library of ebooks everywhere I go!

      Delete
  8. I had never heard of him before, and I love how every poem I read by a master tells me something new... Rather than being ashamed I feel an urge to improve my own poeming.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And your poeming is getting more and more wonderful as far as I can see!

      Delete
  9. thanks for sharing Housman, Rosemary - he was born in the Worcestershire town where I spent many years - but Shropshire is his metier. His lines that haunt my thinking are those 'blue remembered hills' of ' Into my heart on air that kills' and the 'coloured counties' of Bredon hill

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In 1998 I spent a few days in Shrewsbury, and thought of Housman quite a lot just from being there.

      Delete