A.E. Housman – 150th Anniversary
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of poet, A.E. Housman.
Alfred Edward Housman was born on March 26, 1859 in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire and is best known for his cycle of 63 poems, A Shropshire Lad.
Housman’s Shropshire Lad poems are steeped in pessimism and a preoccupation with death.
However, their evocation of doomed youth in the English countryside had great appeal in the late Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian tastes of the time and provided texts for a significant number of British composers of the early 20th century.
Housman actually treated poetry as a secondary preoccupation, finding his true calling in classical studies. His scholarly works provided the merit for his appointment as Professor of Latin at University College London and at Cambridge.
Housman never publicly spoke of his poetry until 1933 when in the lecture, The Name and Nature of Poetry, he argued that poetry should have an emotional and not intellectual appeal.
To An Athlete Dying Young (from A Shropshire Lad)
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.