One of the 63 poems that make up A. E. Housman’s most famous volume of poems, A Shropshire Lad (1896), the poem beginning ‘In My Own Shire, If I Was Sad’ is written in rhyming couplets and is about the change the ‘Shropshire lad’ feels when he moves from his rural home to the bustling metropolis of London. Suddenly, he is surrounded by a sea of people, none of them cares for him – he is in a city of millions of souls, but has never felt more alone.
In my own shire, if I was sad,
Homely comforters I had:
The earth, because my heart was sore,
Sorrowed for the son she bore;
And standing hills, long to remain,
Shared their short-lived comrade’s pain
And bound for the same bourn as I,
On every road I wandered by,
Trod beside me, close and dear,
The beautiful and death-struck year:
Whether in the woodland brown
I heard the beechnut rustle down,
And saw the purple crocus pale
Flower about the autumn dale;
Or littering far the fields of May
Lady-smocks a-bleaching lay,
And like a skylit water stood
The bluebells in the azured wood.
Yonder, lightening other loads,
The seasons range the country roads,
But here in London streets I ken
No such helpmates, only men;
And these are not in plight to bear,
If they would, another’s care.
They have enough as ’tis: I see
In many an eye that measures me
The mortal sickness of a mind
Too unhappy to be kind.
Undone with misery, all they can
Is to hate their fellow man;
And till they drop they needs must still
Look at you and wish you ill.
If you enjoyed ‘In My Own Shire, If I Was Sad’, you can read more of Housman’s finest poetry here.