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Is it your fault that this book is sold out on The Book Depository website? I have all the other books in this series, but this one, at least for now, eludes me.

I love the Vaughan Williams settings of On Wenlock Edge.

adele geras

I agree with you, Cornflower. I'd known a great many of the poems before as single poems in anthologies and I suspect that they're better like that than read from beginnning to end, as it were. Certain ones (Loveliest of trees) take me back to childhood. That was my Dad's favourite poem and I had it by heart at a very early age and still say it over to myself often. On Wenlock Edge, and so on are also fine. And I do see the point of the message but it's a bit relentless and his rhythms do pall if you take these poems all together. But still, a wonderful picture of the countryside and full of marvellous lines and thrilling cadences. I'm now going over to your link to listen to Ian Bostridge. I don't have any problem reading poetry and am always grateful to A E Housman for being readily understandable and clear!! Some poetry is almost wilfully obscure and reads more like cut up prose for my taste...Gosh I sound old fashioned but it's true. In any case this was a great pleasure, whatever its faults.

Mary McCartney

I loved the poem where he said he only had another fifty summers in which to enjoy springtime. Otherwise there certainly was a lot about death, dying and being dead and I think I might have enjoyed this collection of poetry in the spring or summer - autumn, especially just before the hour changes is very melancholy.


Not having participated in The Cornflower Bookgroup before, The Shropshire Lad seemed an undemanding place to start. But oh how deceptively easy to read this poetry is.
It really helped me to learn that these poems became popular during wartimes as I somehow found myself getting caught between 'carpe diem'' and 'memento mori'.
Reflecting now I find myself going back to poem XXXIII because, for me, the themes, love, no religion to be consoled by, live life to the fullest and be aware of the fragility of life there somehow came together.

If truth in hearts that perish
Could move the powers on high,
I think the love I bear you
Should make you not to die.


But now since all is idle,
To this lost heart be kind,
Ere to a town you journey
Where friends are ill to find.

I read poetry more often and I really liked this challenge.


Like others, I am familar with many of the individual poems both from anthologies, and from song settings. I would in particular recommend the George Butterworth settings - they show a real empathy with Housman. Compare "Is my team ploughing" by Vaughan Williams and Butterworth for instance.

There is a yearning in these verses, for an idylic, almost imagined landscape (Housman wrote the colletion in London, and was not from Shropshire), and golden youth. XV1 is an especially bleak little poem.

At the end of it all, it is good to look at Wendy Cope's poem "Another Unfortunate Choice"

I think I am in love with A. E. Housman,
Which puts me in a worse-than-usual fix,
No woman ever stood a chance with Housman
And he's been ded since 1936.


I have really enjoyed reading A Shropshire Lad, and loving that I can be part of a book club online, thanks. I have a particular love for Bredon Hill, as my husband sang an arrangement of it for his senior recital when we were in college. It still brings a tear to my eye. I do really enjoy a lot of his poetry, the cheeriness of lovers in spring etc., but there is an awful lot of death, which I suppose, is just part of life. It was different to read a book of poetry straight through, but I did find many poems that I really enjoyed.


I have not read a poetry book as such for quite a long time,usually just dipping in to favourite poems or to remember quotations. Like you , Cornflower I found the similar metre monotonous. The theme of death didn't do much to raise the spirits. The Lent Lily seemed slightly different _but there again the flowers died.
Nevertheless, I was glad to have read the book and felt poem LV11 summed up my feelings about it.
'Tis late to hearken,late to smile,
But better late than never;
I shall have lived a little while
Before I die for ever


I confess to not having read the poems again especially for this exercise, but I know several of them very well - and I recognise many of the comments made so far - beauty, monotony of metre, depressed mood and the rest. I think it is clear that these poems are ideally read as individual pieces or in small groups - the whole book might have unfortunate consequences! But it is also worth remembering that for most people, particularly then, life was very tough and early death a fact of life in war or peace. And also, Housman was a deeply unhappy man himself - and it's interesting to see his extraordinary achievments against that background: an outstanding classics professor, and a very fine poet - he himself felt that it wsas impossible to be excellent as a poet and as a academic, and he thought he had fallen short in both. To be honest, I would rather have this downbeat mood - though with some very dry humour, as in "Is My team Ploughing" - than the slightly false gup and uplift of so many modern novels.

Can I recommend again - passionately - Stoppard's "Invention of Love", which is witty, sympathetic, poetic, and a vivid insight into Housman's poetry and difficult, loveless life.


I was delighted to find in our local library (in Shropshire), a new edition of A Shropshire Lad, published this year, which contains not only Houseman's poems but wonderful photographs of the county by Gareth B Thomas.

I completely agree with all the comments about Houseman's preoccupation with untimely death and the sacrifices made to war but he was not alone; many more writers would soon echo his thoughts, commenting on the waste and futility of the First World War.

None of that can detract from the delightful picture he paints of the countryside and small towns in this most hidden and overlooked of counties. The photographs in this edition do, to my mind, add a great quality to Houseman's words, in that you can imagine yourself standing in the very place where he penned his verse. The vane on Hughley steeple, for example, is still intact and you can see the "blue remembered hills" behind a picture of Ludlow. Houseman himself, would probably have hated the photos, as he objected to any "additions" to his work, I understand.

I appreciate I have commented more on this edition of the book than Houseman's poems but I think to be able to see the beauty that is in this county and which inspired Houseman, helps you to understand his thoughts on how hard it would be to leave it and fight in unknown lands.

Thank you for suggesting this book. Having re-read all the poems, I now have a further challenge; visiting all the places in the photographs!

Mr Cornflower

Auden said about Housman: "He kept tears, like dirty postcards, hidden in a drawer...". That is cruel but perceptive; while 'poetry as therapy' can be seen to brilliant effect in, for example, various works by Shakespeare, John Clare and Keats, Housman hugs his misery closer and more lovingly than anyone. This impression is of course heightened, as other commenters have suggested, by reading the book through rather than by the normal anthology samples.
That being said, there are a handful of poems here which will be read down the ages, precisely because they speak so eloquently to deep and universal human feelings. Who has not looked back on past happiness and thought of 'blue remembered hills'? Or reflected ruefully that in suffering we are experiencing in our own way the common fate of humanity, to endure until we are 'ashes under Uricon'?


I spent a couple of long afternoons with the book and found that after a time- the poems ran together in my mind. I'm grateful for the mentions that you have all made as to specific poems. I will now go back and read each one.

My copy is from 1947 and is the only copy that the Seattle library currently has. It's mousy grey cover and yellowed pages seemed to fit the poetry bringing to mind another era. But I would love an afternoon with Sue's find and its lovely photographs.

Delyn Williams

Like Sue, I live in a neighbouring county, Herefordshire, to where Housman grew up in Worcestershire, so I am familiar with the landscape and love it.I go regularly to Ludlow and love the train journey through the countryside.
My edition has lovely watercolour, crayon, pencil and pastel illustrations by Robin Bell Corfield although I felt I was cheating a little by looking at them instead of visualising them myself. However, as CorfieLd says, the poems are not directly about landscape or nature but an expression of Housman's anguish.
Housman was very private about his emotions and there was a risk in identifying himself with the ''socially unacceptable face of love''. This was, after all the year of Oscar Wilde's trial.
I hadn't read the poems through as a book before and , much as I love them individually,didn't enjoy them en masse as much. Perhaps it's the Celt in me that made me a little sorrowful so, in future, I'll take them one or two at a time1


Like many collections there are a few poems that appeal more strongly than others here, and like Mr Cornflower I think it's interesting to wonder about the chicken and the egg. Are they appealing because they caught the imagination around the time of publication and thus became popular and familiar? Or appealing because they catch our imagination now?
Unlike Mr Cornflower I think it's the former, but they are none the worse for it. Familiarity breeds only affection here.

And it's interesting to think about why the overwhelming melancholia. English landscapes do not always present a sad scene, nor do I think the English are all hiding a tragic secret held close to their bosom. But in the context of 2 subsequent world wars these poems became a beautiful shorthand for everything that was awful and abhorrent about the death and misery of that time. Many lost their faith as a result of the war and that is something that chimes with A Shropshire Lad, an England from which God is jarringly absent.
So the poems, like many, say much about their author and still speak to us because it seems to be human nature to look back and regret. Though I think this can be dangerous, nice to indulge ourselves in our blue remembered hills once in a while, but important to look around and be amazed and delighted by the modern world.
I enjoyed this read, despite the metered measure and the blurry sadness that resulted. But I'm still pleased it's 2009 and I can email you my thoughts too.


Oh dear--I was going to happily jot down the beautiful lines about seagulls following the ploughman "Oh Christ who holds the furrough straight..." but was seized with a nasty doubt "But is that Houseman?" Checked and no, it isn't (John Masefield) Now I need to re-read "The Shropshire lad"

Dark Puss

Houseman is a name I associate with the SCR at University College London where I studied for my PhD and later worked as an RA and Honorary Lecturer. Houseman's poetry was unknown to me until this CBG choice and thus it presented an interesting challenge. I was, in my youth, extremely fond of poetry and read much of it, from Sappho to John Cooper Clarke. I was never much taken with rhyme and I will admit that the metre of Housman did not generally recommend itself to me. My lack I am sure.

I read the whole collection about four times, and some individual poems rather more often over that last month.

My verdict is that I have enjoyed reading poetry again and that I doubt if I will read this collection again. Yes there is some powerful imagery and it was interesting to see how many of the poems dealt with death, desolation and loss. But I did rather feel as if they would make better ballads than poems and I rather fancied hearing a few of them set to music by Nick Cave and P J Harvey (maybe they already did take some of these). I also found it difficult to know how to read some of the poems. Is the ending to LVI

"Stand and fight and see your slain,
And take the bullet in your brain."

supposed to be read "straight" or is its voice sarcastic?

Of all the commentators I agree most closely with Cornflower who, as ususal, has expressed the limitations of these poems so well. I would say that my edition (my University Library copy) is most beautifully illustrated by Ms. A. M. Parker who worked for part of her illustrious career at the Gregynog Press. For me her wonderful pictures will be what I take with pleasure from reading A Shropshire Lad.

Barbara MacLeod

A most enjoyable selection! Having learned bits of this poetry at school I did not realise that it was part of a much larger work.

A bit of synchronicity:

I found this BBC iPlayer site here: It is a 30 minute programme in the series entitled Something Understood:The Consolations of Autumn. It is about the nostalgia for lost youth. "Writer and broadcaster Hazhir Teimourian asks if youth, as with spring and summer, is not overrated." There are many musical and poetical highlights, most relevant being Songs from A E Housman's A Shropshire Lad, performed by Graham Trew (Meridian) (the setting by Sommervell).

He asks: "Why do people get nostalgic about all those the pretensions ... those anxieties... those expectations ... that we had in our youth?"

Dark Puss

Youth is indeed overrated in many aspects and I feel no real nostalgia for mine. There were many positive features a few of which I am sorry to leave behind, optimisim being one of them. It is also the case that growing old (or at least any older than I am now) doesn't hold much in the way of enticing prospects. My mental and physical health are already declining, not much perhaps but I can tell. If I can find the time (sorry, I mean of course if I give something else up) I will listen to your linked broadcast and discover perhaps what there might be to look forward to.

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