‘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
A critical reading of a nostalgic poem
A. E. Housman (1859-1936) was one of the greatest classicists of his age, and was also, following the success of his (self-published) first volume of poems, A Shropshire Lad (1896), a hugely popular poet. Like Thomas Hardy, the majority of his poems are written in such a plain and direct style that further analysis or critical interpretation may seem unnecessary; but, as ever, it is worth examining how Housman creates the emotional punch that his poem carries. The fortieth poem from A Shropshire Lad, which begins ‘Into my heart an air that kills’, is one of his most famous poems, a short lyric about nostalgia and growing old.
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again. Read the rest of this entry