Shropshire History

A E Housman

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1859 - Houseman was born in Fockbury on the outskirts of Bromsgrove to Edward Houseman, a country solicitor, and Sarah Williams.

 

1871 - His mother died.

 

1873 - His father remarried to his cousin Lucy. Housman was educated at Bromsgrove School, where he won prizes for his poetry.

 

1877 - Houseman won an open scholarship to St John's College, Oxford where he studied classics. He formed strong friendships with two roommates, Moses Jackson and A Pollard. Jackson became the great love of Housman's life, though the latter's feelings were not reciprocated, as Jackson was heterosexual.

 

1879 - Housman had neglected ancient history and philosophy so failed to obtain a degree. Jackson got a job as a clerk in the London Patent Office and for Housman to get a job there as well. They shared a flat with Jackson's brother.

 

1885 - Housman moved to lodgings of his own.

 

1887 - Moses Jackson moved to India.

 

1889 - Jackson returned briefly to England to marry. Housman was not invited to the wedding and knew nothing about it until the couple had left the country. Housman continued pursuing classical studies independently and published scholarly articles.

 

1892 - He was offered the professorship of Latin at University College London, which he accepted. His hobbies included dining out, flying in aeroplanes and frequent visits to France where he could read books which were banned in Britain as pornographic.

 

1896 - He published a book of poems called “The Shropshire Lad” at his own expense as several publishers had turned it down. The poems are pervaded by deep pessimism and a preoccupation with death. Housman wrote most of them while living in London, before ever visiting that part of Shropshire (about 30 miles from his boyhood home), which he presented in an idealised light, as his land of lost content.

 

1911 - Houseman was offered the Kennedy Professorship of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge where he remained for the rest of his life.

 

1922 - He published a set of poems called “Last Poems” when Moses Jackson was dying in Canada.

 

1936 - Housman died, aged 77, in Cambridge and was buried near St Laurence's Church in Ludlow.

 

1942 - After his death, his brother Laurence Housman deposited an essay entitled "A E Housman's De Amicitia" in the British Library, with the proviso that it was not to be published for 25 years. The essay discussed A E Housman's homosexuality and his love for Jackson. Despite the conservative nature of the times, Housman was quite open in his poetry, and especially “A Shropshire Lad, about his sympathies.

 

The following are a selection of his poems.

 

The 53rd Foot

From Clee to heaven the beacon burns,

The shires have seen it plain,

From north and south the sign returns

And beacons burn again.

 

Look left, look right, the hills are bright,

The dales are light between,

Because 'tis fifty years to-night

That God has saved the Queen.

 

Now, when the flame they watch not towers

About the soil they trod,

Lads, we'll remember friends of ours

Who shared the work with God.

 

To skies that knit their heartstrings right,

To fields that bred them brave,

The saviours come not home tonight:

Themselves they could not save.

 

It dawns in Asia, tombstones show

And Shropshire names are read;

And the Nile spills his overflow

Beside the Severn's dead.

 

We pledge in peace by farm and town

The Queen they served in war,

And fire the beacons up and down

The land they perished for.

 

'God save the Queen' we living sing,

From height to height 'tis heard;

And with the rest your voices ring,

Lads of the Fifty-third.

 

Oh, God will save her, fear you not;

Be you the men you've been,

Get you the sons your fathers got,

And God will save the Queen.

 

Shrewsbury Jail

On moonlit heath and lonesome bank

The sheep beside me graze;

And yon the gallows used to clank

Fast by the four cross ways.

 

A careless shepherd once would keep

The flocks by moonlight there,

And high amongst the glimmering sheep

The dead man stood on air.

 

They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail:

The whistles blow forlorn,

And trains all night groan on the rail

To men that die at morn.

 

There sleeps in Shrewsbury jail to-night,

Or wakes, as may betide,

A better lad, if things went right,

Than most that sleep outside.

 

And naked to the hangman's noose

The morning clocks will ring

A neck God made for other use

Than strangling in a string.

 

And sharp the link of life will snap,

And dead on air will stand

Heels that held up as straight a chap

As treads upon the land.

 

So here I'll watch the night and wait

To see the morning shine,

When he will hear the stroke of eight

And not the stroke of nine;

 

And wish my friend as sound a sleep

As lads' I did not know,

That shepherded the moonlit sheep

A hundred years ago.

 

Ludlow Fair

The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair,

There's men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold,

The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there,

And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old.

 

There's chaps from the town and the field and the till and the cart,

And many to count are the stalwart, and many the brave,

And many the handsome of face and the handsome of heart,

And few that will carry their looks or their truth to the grave.

 

I wish one could know them, I wish there were tokens to tell

The fortunate fellows that now you can never discern;

And then one could talk with them friendly and wish them farewell

And watch them depart on the way that they will not return.

 

But now you may stare as you like and there's nothing to scan;

And brushing your elbow unguessed-at and not to be told

They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,

The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.

 

 

On Wenlock Edge

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.

 

Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman

At yonder heaving hill would stare:

The blood that warms an English yeoman,

The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

 

There, like the wind through woods in riot,

Through him the gale of life blew high;

The tree of man was never quiet:

Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

 

The gale, it plies the saplings double,

It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:

To-day the Roman and his trouble

Are ashes under Uricon.

 

Wenlock Town

'Tis time, I think, by Wenlock town

The golden broom should blow;

The hawthorn sprinkled up and down

Should charge the land with snow.

 

Spring will not wait the loiterer's time

Who keeps so long away;

So others wear the broom and climb

The hedgerows heaped with may.

 

Oh tarnish late on Wenlock Edge,

Gold that I never see;

Lie long, high snowdrifts in the hedge

That will not shower on me.

 

Blue Remembered Hills

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.

 

The Grenadier

The Queen she sent to look for me,

The sergeant he did say,

`Young man, a soldier will you be

For thirteen pence a day?'

 

For thirteen pence a day did I

Take off the things I wore,

And I have marched to where I lie,

And I shall march no more.

 

My mouth is dry, my shirt is wet,

My blood runs all away,

So now I shall not die in debt

For thirteen pence a day.

 

To-morrow after new young men

The sergeant he must see,

For things will all be over then

Between the Queen and me.

 

And I shall have to bate my price,

For in the grave, they say,

Is neither knowledge nor device

Nor thirteen pence a day.

 

Home

Home is the sailor, home from sea:

Her far-borne canvas furled

The ship pours shining on the quay

 The plunder of the world.

 

Home is the hunter from the hill:

Fast in the boundless snare

All flesh lies taken at his will

And every fowl of air.

 

'Tis evening on the moorland free,

The starlit wave is still:

Home is the sailor from the sea,

The hunter from the hill.