Tuesday, 18 August 2009


A. E. Housman (1859–1936). A Shropshire Lad. 1896.


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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.


‘Oh, sick I am to see you, will you never let me be?
You may be good for something but you are not good for me.
Oh, go where you are wanted, for you are not wanted here.
And that was all the farewell when I parted from my dear.

‘I will go where I am wanted, to a lady born and bred
Who will dress me free for nothing in a uniform of red;
She will not be sick to see me if I only keep it clean:
I will go where I am wanted for a soldier of the Queen.

‘I will go where I am wanted, for the sergeant does not mind;
He may be sick to see me but he treats me very kind:
He gives me beer and breakfast and a ribbon for my cap,
And I never knew a sweetheart spend her money on a chap.

‘I will go where I am wanted, where there’s room for one or two,
And the men are none too many for the work there is to do;
Where the standing line wears thinner and the dropping dead lie thick;
And the enemies of England they shall see me and be sick.’

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"Far I hear the bugle blow
To call me where I would not go,
And the guns begin the song,
'Soldier, fly or stay for long.'

"Comrade, if to turn and fly
Made a soldier never die,
Fly I would, for who would not?
'Tis sure no pleasure to be shot.

"But since the man that runs away
Lives to die another day,
And cowards' funerals, when they come,
Are not wept so well at home,

"Therefore, though the best is bad,
Stand and do the best, my lad;
Stand and fight and see your slain,
And take the bullet in your brain.

(We never do deals with terrorists.)

And these few lines, after Kipling, from our own earlier post, D-Day Remembrance Blues, commemorating the Great Leader's appearance on the Normandy beaches:

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...........And as we stand here and remember,
Let us make a vow, good men,
And never let this bastard be prime minister again.
For waste and desperation come a-trailing in his wake
And Ruin and Desolation are all that he can make,
All that he can make, me lads, all that he can make;
For Ruin and Desolation are all that he can make.
Let him put his moral compass
Where the Sun don't ever shine,
And don't believe a word he tells you
For he's spinning you a line.

Let us put this motherfucker, lads, up against the wall
Let us start with him but never rest until we've stood them all,
They're a dreadful bunch of vermin
And they'd all be better dead
For they've taken Hope and Charity and stood them on their head
Stood them on their heads, me lads, stood them on their heads
They're a dreadful bunch of vermin and they'd all be better dead.

Oh, it's Gordon this and Gordon that
And Gordon knows the route
But he's hiding in the toilet
When the guns begin to shoot
The guns begin to shoot me lads, the guns begin to shoot,
Gordon's whistlin' Colonel Bogey, when the guns begin to shoot
And he's munching on his mucus and chewing at his nails,
Align Centre beside Obama and the Prince of fucking Wales.



lilith said...

Excellent. Look at Brown, elbowing the future king in the chest. What an incredible ego.

idle said...

The PoW has an awful lotta medals for someone who never did anything more dangerous than ferry spam from ship to ship in his helicopter.

Obama has, like Dubya before him, awarded himself the Flag of the Union lapel pin.

And what does McBust (incorrectly buttoned, I note) have on his chest, apart from errant bogeys?

hrh prinz purple faze said...

it's good to get out and mingle once in a while...one learns things all the time, broadens one's horizons...for example, one might never have been apprised of the fact that one's blessed allotment, one's earth, one's realm, one's England now has a rather disarming african gentleman at the helm! what! and, should one be tempted to regard that singular scenario as progressive, then listen-up chaps...because one's afro-american cousins have inexplicably elected the first one-eyed jock snot-gobbler into the white house! one thought it would never happen! i am sad to say, however, that one estimates it could be some considerable span of years before one beholds the coronation of a potted hibiscus in westminster abbey...such is the evil of human prejudice...nevertheless, one must consider it a mite fortuitous that one's funkiness is subbing for mummy today - as one fears the incredulous sense of history may well have overwhelmed the old sov...

spark up said...

ahhh...the view from bredon hill, walking wenlock edge, the enchantment of alderley edge, the mystical wrekin, the long mynd, alan garner, the weirdstone of brisinghamen, the moon of gomrath, elidor, the owl service, george butterworth, the banks of the green willow...happy days...happy memories...as english as winning world wars, losing your legs, and frothing up your guts in a homely cess-pit.

call me ishmael said...

Oh, calumny and injustice; is not Mr Brown the world's leading authority on Courage? What need has he for medals when, nightly, the staff at Glasgow Airport Hosannah him for saving them, single handedly, from Death's Mohammedan Inferno.

ae arseman said...


...and taking it up the bum

call me ishmael said...

Yes, Mr spark-up - and Cleobury Mortimer and Rock and Ludlow's jetted timber buildings and the Welsh Marches. It was all still there, the last time I looked, Housman's grave-bound, melancholy canvas, Kipling's rattling yarns. Dunblane and Stirling echo the ancient English market town but little else here offers such comfortable familiarities, best part f Engfland it may be, but foreign for all that.

spark up said...


oh come on ishmael, give the guy a break - i was just thinking how prudent he looked beside the fraudster and the plonker - no medals, no flags, just unadorned turd

mongoose said...

Mr Ishmael,

When I was that spotty, grammar school boy - sixteen and ne'er been kissed - and at my science A-levels, we were made to "do" English once a week. No chits, no medals, no stars. "Attendance is mandatory, mongoose", sadi Rev Kelly. And we read aloud the first twenty (I think) of the "Lad". And we also read aloud "A Kind of Loving" by Stan Barstow.

Now, there is a civilsed and civilising thing to do to a bunch of techy, nerdy, sciency, geeky boy-men. Sex education? We had none. But Housman showed us love and loss and death, and Stan showed us what might happen if you get a girl pregnant. Was all this by accident, do you think? I wonder does this happen now, or do they just learn how to put on condoms?

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.

And I understood that one too not very long after, in a boyish, but no less real, way.

There is a simple morality to it all. And there is a subject, a theme to Mr I's output. Although the structure is singular in its folksy, beaty looseness. Of this world, report you well and truly.

point of order (by appointment) said...

idle 22:10

The PoW has an awful lotta medals for someone who never did anything more dangerous than ferry spam from ship to ship in his helicopter.

it may surprise you to learn that one won them all at the chelsea flower show. that pretty one on the end was for a trim little begonia, beautiful firm petals...

the ones on the lapel are snot-drops awarded to me by prime minister brown shortly before we were snapped. bless him.

smeg samsa said...


lucky man. some of us had to make do with a sexually repressed beetle.

caesars wife said...

The Gordon broon medal would be made of Iron Pyaritize (but hall marked Fife 24crt gold)

it would feature a detailed Outback Aussie Dunnie on the back and a Gurning portrait on the front.

Milled around the edge would be the latin Ecce signum johna/ruin.

it would be awarded for 0% contribution to sustainable ecnomics ,whilst bringing about a marxist new world order .

call me ishmael said...

I came to Housman very late, came to a lot of stuff very late, still coming to it; but even so, every one of them words rang true and glowed like burning coals...

All my english teachers were, what, rakish, dissolute, I wouldn't put anything past them, mr mongoose, not even goodness. There must be some such around still but what they have to compete with must tax them sore.
We each must do what we can, although I find the young harder and harder to engage with, such forces of Ruin are deployed against their every waking moment.

If I was Jack Kerouac, by the way, I'd a killed that fucking piano player.

Dear Mr Caesars wife, you shouldn't take quite so many of those cynicism pills, there's people fighting and dying so you can get your mind right and support your government, like a good subject-consumer should.

Daniel said...

Mister Ishmael,

Thank you for the poetry. I know all the poets of note by name but must confess I do not read many of them. Always too busy doing something I consider more useful I suppose. I am looking at retiring soon so may have more time to address that. However at the moment I do make time to read your articles as I find them in tune with my own thoughts. I find I am out of tune with most "normal thinking" these days so keep things to myself.

As for Shropshire, obviously it is still there but sadly is probably not populated by Shropshire Lads any longer. That breed and many others is long gone, washed away on the inexorable tide.

Caractacus said...

I was born in Bishops Castle and spent my first eleven years near the Long Mynd. My favourite poem is the following from Housman's 'A Shropshire Lad'. I can still remember those happy highways and that land of lost content.

Into my heart an air that kills

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.

mongoose said...

Mr Ishmael,

Don't know how it all got started,
Don't know what they're doin' with their lives..

Itself riddled with references to Chaucer and painting and perhaps through both of those to Joni. There is a live version of TUIB on one of them. I forget which.

Poetry is funny stuff and almost from another age. Incongruously, or not, the first poetry I "got" was all that black Wilfrid Owen stuff. What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

We learn but slowly it seems.

existentially repressed beetle said...

as part of community relations initiative, me and the boys at the special air service, hereford, are collaborating to put the shropshire lad to music. i just pray the poor fucker survives.

spark up said...

anyone seen my pet bombardier beetle? the little bugger seems to have bust out of his matchbox - he's extremely effeminate, fatally attracted to men in uniform, and answers to the name of franz. i am seriously concerned about both his own welfare and that of any unsuspecting privates with whom he might come into contact. if spotted, do not approach under any circumstances.

narcolept said...

If we're allowed to contribute poems by AEH here is another:

I to my perils
Of cheat and charmer
Came clad in armour
By stars divine

Hope lies to mortals
And most believe her
But man's deceiver
Was never mine

The thoughts of others
Were light and fleeting
Of lovers meeting
Or luck, or fame

Mine were of trouble
And mine were steady
So I was ready
When trouble came.

(I might have got the layout wrong because I can't find the book at the moment).

mongoose said...

Mr narcolept,

Allowed, Sir? Is it not a free country?


call me ishmael said...

It's a free country here, in Ishmaelia.

mongoose said...

Fearther-footed, Mr I. I noticed.

call me ishmael said...

Don't understand Mr mongoose.