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10. A. E. Housman, "Collected Poems"
teapot
el_staplador wrote in queerlit50
Comprising A Shropshire Lad, Last Poems, More Poems, Additional Poems, and a few translations. (To be fair to Housman, so far as he was concerned, Last Poems actually was last; all the rest were published posthumously.)

Reading these is always an interesting experience for me, because I grew up in the Marches, and so every placename mentioned in A Shropshire Lad is one I know from my childhood, and is quite likely a place I visited; so I come to meet these poems with an odd mixture of recognition and strangeness. (I discuss this in more depth, with regard to one particular poem, here.)

Poetry was something of a sideline for Housman; he was a classicist first and foremost, and thought of his poems as a 'morbid secretion' - and the editor of this volume points out that this is perhaps how an oyster would regard a pearl. They are very readable, flowing and catchy, and tinged throughout with a melancholy that sometimes approaches cynicism. They happen in a landscape that I know and do not know, metaphorically as well as literally. They speak of youth, of soldiering, of rural life, of love and disillusionment, of the transience of life and the finality of death.


'Tis time, I think, by Wenlock town
The golden broom should blow;
The hawthorn sprinkled up and down
Should charge the land with snow.

Spring will not wait the loiterer's time
Who keeps so long away;
So others wear the broom and climb
The hedgerows heaped with may.

Oh tarnish late on Wenlock Edge,
Gold that I never see;
Lie long, high snowdrifts in the hedge
That will not shower on me.


The True Lover
The lad came to the door at night,
When lovers crown their vows,
And whistled soft and out of sight
In shadow of the boughs.

'I shall not vex you with my face
Henceforth, my love, for aye;
So take me in your arms a space
Before the east is grey.

'When I from hence away am passed
I shall not find a bride,
And you shall be the first and last
I ever lay beside.'

She heard and went and knew not why;
Her heart to his she laid;
Light was the air beneath the sky
But dark under the shade.

'Oh do you breathe, lad, that your breast
Seems not to rise and fall,
And here upon my bosom prest
There beats no heart at all?'

'Oh loud, my girl, it once would knock,
You should have felt it then;
But since for you I stopped the clock
It never goes again.'

'Oh lad, what is it, lad, that drips
Wet from your neck on mine?
What is it falling on my lips,
My lad, that tastes of brine?'

'Oh like enough 'tis blood, my dear,
For when the knife has slit
The throat across from ear to ear
'Twill bleed because of it.'

Under the stars the air was light
But dark below the boughs,
The still air of the speechless night,
When lovers crown their vows.


Last Poems, XXVI

The half-moon westers low, my love,
And the wind brings up the rain;
And wide apart lie we, my love,
And seas between the twain.

I know not if it rains, my love,
In the land where you do lie;
And oh, so sound you sleep, my love,
You know no more than I.


Very, very occasionally, he talks a little less obliquely about homophobia:


Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they're taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.

Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they're haling him to justice for the colour of his hair.

Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet
And the quarry-gang on Portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair.

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'On Wenlock Edge the Woods in Trouble' is one of my all time favourite poems.

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