from poetry by
A. E. Housman

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A Shropshire Lad



index pages:

Housman is (at different ages) both main characters of Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love.

In the play, one character offers a brief, humorous assessment of A Shropshire Lad.

A Shropshire Lad




Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.





Clay lies still, but blood’s a rover;

Breath’s a ware that will not keep.

Up, lad: when the journey’s over

There’ll be time enough to sleep.






When I was one-and-twenty

I heard a wise man say,

“Give crowns and pounds and guineas

But not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies

But keep your fancy free.”

But I was one-and-twenty,

No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty

I heard him say again,

“The heart out of the bosom

Was never given in vain;

’Tis paid with sighs a plenty

And sold for endless rue.”

And I am two-and-twenty,

And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.



Oh, when I was in love with you,

Then I was clean and brave,

And miles around the wonder grew

How well I did behave.

And now the fancy passes by,

And nothing will remain,

And miles around they’ll say that I

Am quite myself again.





Oh fair enough are sky and plain,

But I know fairer far:

Those are as beautiful again

That in the water are;

The pools and rivers wash so clean

The trees and clouds and air,

The like on earth was never seen,

And oh that I were there.

These are the thoughts I often think

As I stand gazing down

In act upon the cressy brink

To strip and dive and drown;

But in the golden-sanded brooks

And azure meres I spy

A silly lad that longs and looks

And wishes he were I.





From far, from eve and morning

And yon twelve-winded sky,

The stuff of life to knit me

Blew hither: here am I.

Now—for a breath I tarry

Nor yet disperse apart—

Take my hand quick and tell me,

What have you in your heart.

Speak now, and I will answer;

How shall I help you, say;

Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters

I take my endless way.

Note (Hal’s):
The first two stanzas are quoted in, and provide the title for, Roger Zelazny’s “For a Breath I Tarry.”

— end note


Yonder, lightening other loads,

The seasons range the country roads

But here in London streets I ken

No such helpmates, only men;

And these are not in plight to bear,

If they would, another’s care.

They have enough as ’tis: I see

In many an eye that measures me

The mortal sickness of a mind

Too unhappy to be kind.

Undone with misery, all they can

Is to hate their fellow man;

And till they drop they needs must still

Look at you and wish you ill.




Oh, ’tis jesting, dancing, drinking

Spins the heavy world around.

If young hearts were not so clever,

Oh, they would be young for ever:

Think no more; ’tis only thinking

Lays lads underground.


“Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff”

Oh many a peer of England brews

Livelier liquor than the Muse,

And malt does more than Milton can

To justify God’s ways to man.

Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink

For fellows whom it hurts to think:

Look into the pewter pot

To see the world as the world’s not.

And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:

The mischief is that ’twill not last.



Therefore, since the world has still

Much good, but much less good than ill,

And while the sun and moon endure

Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,

I’d face it as a wise man would,

And train for ill and not for good.

’Tis true the stuff I bring for sale

Is not so brisk a brew as ale:

Out of a stem that scored the hand

I wrung it in a weary land.

But take it: if the smack is sour,

The better for the embittered hour;

It should do good to heart and head

When your soul is in my soul’s stead;

And I will friend you, if I may,

In the dark and cloudy day.

Compare to:

Kurt Vonnegut


I hoed and trenched and weeded,

And took the flowers to fair:

I brought them home unheeded;

The hue was not the wear.

So up and down I sow them

For lads like me to find,

When I shall lie below them,

A dead man out of mind.



text checked (see note) Apr 2005

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