Confoundingly beautiful, brilliant and cynical, Housman’s poetry compares to little else. (internal link) It is a tragic world he sings of but his song is so sweet that we must listen.
The following are random snippets, you can find his poetry all over the web. I think he resonates more with the young, in that the young protest against unfairness until they find that unfairness is as much of the world as its clouds and hills.
Is My Team Ploughing
“Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?”
Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.
“Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?”
Ay the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.
“Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?”
Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.
“Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?”
Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.
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.
The Queen she sent to look for me,
The sergeant he did say,
`Young man, a soldier will you be
For thirteen pence a day?’
For thirteen pence a day did I
Take off the things I wore,
And I have marched to where I lie,
And I shall march no more.
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.
To-morrow after new young men
The sergeant he must see,
For things will all be over then
Between the Queen and me.
And I shall have to bate my price,
For in the grave, they say,
Is neither knowledge nor device
Nor thirteen pence a day.
Yonder see the morning blink:
The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
And work, and God knows why.
Oh often have I washed and dressed
And what’s to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I’ve done my best
And all’s to do again.
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.
Along The Field As We Came By
Along the field as we came by
A year ago, my love and I,
The aspen over stile and stone
Was talking to itself alone.
“Oh who are these that kiss and pass?
A country lover and his lass;
Two lovers looking to be wed;
And time shall put them both to bed,
But she shall lie with earth above,
And he beside another love.”
And sure enough beneath the tree
There walks another love with me,
And overhead the aspen heaves
Its rainy-sounding silver leaves;
And I spell nothing in their stir,
But now perhaps they speak to her,
And plain for her to understand
They talk about a time at hand
When I shall sleep with clover clad,
And she beside another lad.
In one of his collections Housman wrote a variant on the famous verse on the gravestone of Robert Louis Stevenson gravestone:
XXII – R.L.S.
Home is the sailor, home from sea:
Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
The plunder of the world.
Home is the hunter from the hill:
Fast in the boundless snare
All flesh lies taken at his will
And every fowl of air.
‘Tis evening on the moorland free,
The starlit wave is still:
Home is the sailor from the sea,
The hunter from the hill.
This is Stevenson’s original writing:
Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live, and gladly die, And I laid me down with a will. This be the verse you grave for me: “Here he lies where he longed to be. Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill.”