In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle celebrates the third and lesser-known collection from A. E. Housman
A. E. Housman wasn’t a prolific poet. His first volume, A Shropshire Lad, was published in 1896 when he was in his late thirties. His second collection, Last Poems, which appeared 26 years later, lived up to its name and was the final volume to appear in his lifetime. When Housman died in 1936, his will ordered his brother, Laurence, to destroy his prose manuscripts, but he left the fate of his remaining unpublished poems up to his brother. Those which Laurence Housman considered worth preserving and publishing – if any at all – A. E. Housman allowed to be published. The result was More Poems, a collection of 48 poems written over a period spanning nearly half a century.
It was More Poems rather than the far more famous A Shropshire Lad which introduced me to A. E. Housman. The final Inspector Morse novel, The Remorseful Day, by Colin Dexter, which came out in 1999, took its title from one of the poems included in this posthumous volume, and the poem – untitled, like the majority of Housman’s poems, but beginning with the words ‘How clear, how lovely bright’ – was included as epigraph to the novel. Or, rather, the final stanza, which, like much of Housman’s work, I still know by heart: Read the rest of this entry
‘Tell me not here, it needs not saying’ is one of the most famous poems from A. E. Housman’s second volume, Last Poems (1922). In this poem, which comes near the end of the collection, Housman reflects on his relationship with nature, before concluding that, although nature does not care or even know about him, he feels a close bond with it.
Tell me not here, it needs not saying,
What tune the enchantress plays
In aftermaths of soft September
Or under blanching mays,
For she and I were long acquainted
And I knew all her ways.
On russet floors, by waters idle,
The pine lets fall its cone;
The cuckoo shouts all day at nothing
In leafy dells alone;
And traveller’s joy beguiles in autumn
Hearts that have lost their own. Read the rest of this entry
‘On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble’: it’s one of A. E. Housman’s most arresting opening lines. Why, or indeed how, is the wood ‘in trouble’? What follows is one of the greatest poetic meditations on the smallness of the individual life when set against the grand sweep of history.
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. Read the rest of this entry