Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Poetry Month Challenge - A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman

When it comes to poetry, I need someone to tell me what is good.

When Kristina issued this challenge, a couple of lines of poetry that have been rattling through my head since university days came rattling back,

"Terence this is stupid stuff,
You eat your victuals fast enough"

Probably time to put them back in context.

The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman contains his very famous A Shropshire Lad. It has all the big themes: home, war, love, death. For the most part, the poem is centered around a young Shropshire lad named Terence. He is encouraged to live life to the fullest, for death will come soon enough. It seems to me both pessimistic and sometimes humorous. Soldiers die young and are mourned. Young women sometimes disappoint. Brothers murder brothers and are then hanged. The loss of young life recurs throughout the poem. "To an Athlete Dying Young" is commonly recited at a young person's untimely funeral. There is the virtue of the county compared to the darkness of London.

There are flashes of humor (or maybe irony).

"Terence this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache."

and I enjoyed:

"Oh, when I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by,
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they'll say that I
Am quite myself again."

This poem has stood the test of time and is used and quoted frequently to this day. (Including an episode of The Simpsons). It experiences renewed interest in time of war.

So...the challenge. Do I have a renewed interest in poetry? Not really. I tend to gravitate towards fiction, biographies and history. I like a story. I felt like I had to work to wrest the story out of this poem. Will I do another challenge? Maybe, we'll see.

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