Poetry Corner: A Swing by Shropshire

I’ve mentioned before that the 1951 “Mid-Century [combined] Edition” of Louis Untermeyer’s Modern American and Modern English Poetry was a formative text in my life. In 1971 or ’72, my dad handed me the book, which he or some other family member had liberated from the base library in Augsburg, Germany — my grandfather had been stationed there after the war.

The book introduced me to such writers as MacLeish, E.A. Robinson, and others on this side of the Atlantic, and across the pond, I was introduced to folks like Hardy, Housman, and the War Poets, all of whom resonated with me to greater or lesser extents. While I may have wound up an academic in any case (being little suited to other means of making a living), the book was, I think, a driver in my tastes and ultimate career choices.

While all these writers (and others, as well) have shaped both my ear and (I think) my somewhat sardonic worldview, Robinson and Housman may have been leaders among equals. Robinson’s portraiture and Housman’s speakers helped me learn early on that life wasn’t necessarily going to take the shape we dream it will. Robinson taught me empathy for the men and women, the Cheevys and Corys, who fall through the cracks sometimes, whether due to fate or due to their own characters, and to see them without contempt, but with a sense of the Grace that kept me from joining them. Housman, meanwhile, accomplished (in my case) what he (as Terence Hearsay) claimed was his goal — to serve as a fellow sufferer when times are hard, as they will always be. He couldn’t spare the reader any heartbreak, but he could help one bear it with some stoicism.

As it happens, I’m reading a book about Housman and his effect on what one might call the English character, and it has the bonus of providing me with yet another copy of A Shropshire Lad (my third, I think — one as a freestander on my Kindle, and another in a Collected Poems.) I was looking up a reference from the book’s text, and happened across this one. I hadn’t thought much of it before, but it resonated today, so I’ll share it with you. It’s number 33 from Shropshire Lad, and I suspect it may have been inspired by AEH’s unrequited love for Moses Jackson, who in fact did journey far from Housman, variously to India and Canada. In any case, it’s a fine work.

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.

Sure, sure, if stedfast meaning,
If single thought could save,
The world might end to-morrow,
You should not see the grave.

This long and sure-set liking,
This boundless will to please,
— Oh, you should live for ever,
If there were help in these.

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

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

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