Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Two Poems of AE Houseman

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on September 3, 2011

The young have a prerogative to be hopeful, to look forward to the future, to be ready with energy to face all the possibilities that destiny dishes out and to drink deep from the riches the world has to offer them. Therefore melancholoy is an unnatural characteristic of them. It does not belong with them, makes an uneasy acquiantance and is an unnatural companion . Yet for its sheer poignancy there is no melancholy like the resigned melancholoy of the young

One poet in my know who has been supremely successful in capturing the melancholoy of youth is AE Houseman. I have first come across Houseman’s writing through a snippet of his poem mentioned in William Woodruffe’s autobiography “Beyond The Nab End“. Ever since,  his collection of poems especially “The Shropshire Lad” has been a favourite of mine and I keep it handy to read it whenever I feel like. His poems are deep and have a way with words – simple, common, rhyming, beautiful and with an ability to produce a sense that is sublime and extremely satisfying.  Had I my way, I would introduce some of his wonderful poems to all (especially young) without fail

Here are two of his fine poems which I like a lot for their simplicity, meaning and effect 

When first my way to fair I took

When first my way to fair I took
Few pence in purse had I,
And long I used to stand and look
At things I could not buy.

Now times are altered: if I care
To buy a thing, I can;
The pence are here and here’s the fair,
But where’s the lost young man?

— To think that two and two are four
And neither five nor three
The heart of man has long been sore
And long ’tis like to be

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow

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2 Responses to “Two Poems of AE Houseman”

  1. Thank you for this post. One of my favourite Housman poems is “On Wenlock Edge”. I love the manner in which Housman connects his generation with the Romans who inhabitted Wenlock long ago

    “On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble
    His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
    The gale, it plies the saplings double,
    And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

    ‘Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
    When Uricon the city stood:
    ‘Tis the old wind in the old anger,
    But then it threshed another wood.

    Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman
    At yonder heaving hill would stare:
    The blood that warms an English yeoman,
    The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

    There, like the wind through woods in riot,
    Through him the gale of life blew high;
    The tree of man was never quiet:
    Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

    The gale, it plies the saplings double,
    It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:
    To-day the Roman and his trouble
    Are ashes under Uricon.”

    • Vish Mangalapalli said

      Thanks Kevin for introducing me to this poem. The context of a poem, I am coming to realise, makes an enormous difference in its appreciation.

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