A Shropshire Lad
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:
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