This poem, taken from A. If truth in hearts that perish Could move the powers on high, I think the love I bear you Should make you not to die. This poem first appeared in a cycle of 63 poems called A Shropshire Lad in 1896. Song writers of the day put some of these poems to music and they helped people talk about the wars and home in times when it was difficult to do so. Fall, winter, fall; for he, Prompt hand and headpiece clever, Has woven a winter robe, And made of earth and sea His overcoat for ever, And wears the turning globe. Strapped, noosed, nighing his hour, He stood and counted them and cursed his luck; And then the clock collected in the tower Its strength, and struck.
Housman's Into my heart an air that kills Into my heart an air that kills From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those? Their homes are no longer the same now that they have lost one or more children sons to a war. Oh that was right, lad, that was brave: Yours was not an ill for mending, 'Twas best to take it to the grave. Clay lies still, but blood's a rover; Breath's a ware that will not keep. I want to explain to myself the grip the line had on me before I relaxed into the rest of the poem. The speaker views a distant land and recalls, with a certain melancholy nostalgia, the hills and spires of his homeland.
He recognises that, whilst he was happy when he lived there, he cannot return there now he is older and has left that land behind. O thou that from thy mansion Through time and place to roam, Dost send abroad thy children, And then dost call them home, That men and tribes and nations And all thy hand hath made May shelter them from sunshine In thine eternal shade: We now to peace and darkness And earth and thee restore Thy creature that thou madest And wilt cast forth no more. But then that is much the same thing as being more alive. The radio was just on and I was in the bathroom when I heard this poem being read. When the bells justle in the tower The hollow night amid, Then on my tongue the taste is sour Of all I ever did. To-morrow after new young men The sergeant he must see, For things will all be over then Between the Queen and me.
No, not that then, but there is a touch of heart-piercing genius in the poems, and in this one particularly, that is harder to explain. The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair. Life has no meaning, and we must embrace that fact. And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air? But men at whiles are sober And think by fits and starts, And if they think, they fasten Their hands upon their hearts. Or so it seems to me.
For these of old the trader Unpearled the Indian seas, The nations of the nadir Were diamondless for these; A people prone and haggard Beheld their lightnings hurled: All round, like Sinai, staggered The sceptre-shaken world. He hears: no more remembered In fields where I was known, Here I lie down in London And turn to rest alone. Think rather, -- call to thought, if now you grieve a little, The days when we had rest, O soul, for they were long. My mouth is dry, my shirt is wet, My blood runs all away, So now I shall not die in debt For thirteen pence a day. What found he, that the heavens stand fast? Their shoulders held the sky suspended; They stood, and earth's foundations stay; What God abandoned, these defended, And saved the sum of things for pay. And you're more alive than ever at the end of it.
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. On acres of the seeded grasses The changing burnish heaves; Or marshalled under moons of harvest Stand still all night the sheaves; Or beeches strip in storms for winter And stain the wind with leaves. That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went And cannot come again. The fact that the homes we love are still being impacted by those we lose to the world's battlefields adds to the lasting popularity of the poems themselves. That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went And cannot come again. The time you won your town the race We chaired you through the market-place; Man and boy stood cheering by, And home we brought you shoulder-high. That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went And cannot come again.
They put arsenic in his meat And stared aghast to watch him eat; They poured strychnine in his cup And shook to see him drink it up: They shook, they stared as white's their shirt: Them it was their poison hurt. Oh you had forethought, you could reason, And saw your road and where it led, And early wise and brave in season Put the pistol to your head. 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. That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went And cannot come again. Wake: the silver dusk returning Up the beach of darkness brims, And the ship of sunrise burning Strands upon the eastern rims. Another dual use of a word, content.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away From fields where glory does not stay, And early though the laurel grows It withers quicker than the rose. And now he does not even see Signs of the nadir roll At night over the ground where he Is buried with the pole. Stir not for the soldiers drilling Nor the fever nothing cures: Throb of drum and timbal's rattle Call but man alive to battle, And the fife with death-notes filling Screams for blood but not for yours. Into my heart an air that kills From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those? Into my heart an air that kills From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those? And yes, just been stabbed is right. They braced their belts around them, They crossed in ships the sea, They sought and found six feet of ground, And there they died for me.
Housman 1859-1936 Roger McGough's last Poetry Please programme was devoted to A. And round that early-laurelled head Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead, And find unwithered on its curls The garland briefer than a girl's. Still hangs the hedge without a gust, Still, still the shadows stay: My feet upon the moonlit dust Pursue the ceaseless way. More than I, if truth were told, Have stood and sweated hot and cold, And through their reins in ice and fire Fear contended with desire. There is an unconscious understanding in poems, particularly of the very short lyrical sort, whereby the body enacts, as if by implication, but an implication we actually experience physically, an experience in language. When Israel out of Egypt came Safe in the sea they trod; By day in cloud, by night in flame, Went on before them God.