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The Poetry of A. E. Housman
Volume I: A Shropshire Lad
A Shropshire Lad is A. E. Housman's reflections on love, death, and the eternal uncertainty of the human condition, placed in an idealized world of rural England, unpolluted by the taint of the city, but still a place where love can fail, evil can come to good people, and human beings can find themselves torn deeply by conflicting desires and feelings.
His tone is always deeply elegiac, but it can be gently humorous, and even self-deprecating as well: "And lads knew trouble at Knighton/When I was a Knighton lad." Most striking of all is the utter simplicity he achieves: "By brooks too broad for leaping/The lightfoot boys are laid/The rose-lipt girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.
Housman had great faith in his work even when he could not find a publisher and had to bring it out himself. His faith was rewarded. The volume has become a classic of English literature and an inspiration to musicians and composers, who have set many of his poems to music. He was not prolific; his total output consists of this volume and one other (Last Poems, see below) but his achievement places him among the world's great poets. .
Volume II: Last Poems
Housman himself knew that his output as a poet would not be large. In his preface to this volume, he wrote, rather touchingly: "I publish these poems, few though they are, because it is not likely that I shall ever be impelled to write much more." He pulled Last Poems together because his life-long friend, Moses Jackson, was dying and Housman wanted Jackson to be able to read these poems before Jackson passed away.
The work in this volume is more varied in form and content than in his first book, and shows a change of heart, a greater acceptance of the human condition, along with a more impersonal voice.
His sense of the finality of life is strong: "Dead clay that did me kindness/I can do none to you/But only wear for breastknot/The flower of sinner's rue." Yet, if anything, his voice is gentler, his spirit calmer and more accepting, and his sense of the eternal stronger than in his first book.