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1936, his will ordered his brother, Laurence, to destroy his prose manuscripts, but he left the fate of his remaining unpublished poems up to his brother.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: