- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 64 pages, 3ill.
- Publisher: Branden Publishing Co ,U.S.
- Publication Date: 01/12/1982
- Category: Poetry by individual poets
- ISBN: 9780828314558
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Review by Caomhghin
I was surprised to find I hadn't read A Shropshire Lad before. I had read a number of the poems, all rather good, and there are a number of phrases which have entered general circulation. Having read the entire collection now I can see why I hadn't done so before. There are a limited number of jewels, rather a lot of unexciting verse and a solid chunk of dreadful stuff. It's all on one note, of course, melancholic, bittersweet, nostalgic, triste. He can pretty well only write well in simple ballad style, but on a few occasions he does write so very well in them. I got to be intrigued as to what the difference was between the brilliant and the bad so I had a careful look at a couple. For example XL, probably his best known and definitely his best. It is full of memorable phrases - in fact the most famous Housman phrases come from this poem. 'The land of lost content' and 'blue remembered hills'. The poem is deliberately vague as to landscape. This is because he is looking into the past rather more than into a space which is why the phrase 'blue remembered hills' resonates so. Hills are blue because they are far away but he is not looking at them now. It is the land of lost content but probably, possibly because he never went there - they were the future, and distant. But the blue vagueness grows into the 'shining plain' (a lovely pun too) because we are on the 'happy highways' - Housman's regular metaphor for life - where he went, in the past again, and finally the last line made brilliant by using one word - 'come' instead of the more usual go. He can and did go to the hills later in his life (it seems likely that he never actually visited them until then!) but he cannot go to the past. He is describing, evoking something, somewhere he can see but can never 'go' to. XXVII "Is my team ploughing" is a perfect ballad building up to the last line which, while totally expected, is all the more bitter. The live lad lies easy in spite of lying by the dead lad's sweetheart. Housman again uses a simple word, lie, which weaves between its possible meanings in an intricate but simple development.XXI Bredon Hill I Once more it's the perfect control of the structure, that third rhyme which pulls the story and the emotion forward. It gives the statement an emphasis because it's repeating the rhythm of the line before. At the same time he uses a pattern of repeated words, especially in the last line, which sharpen what we see in a very simple way: "stay", 'come to church". "went to church", "would not wait" and the final devastating, "I will come".The exact opposite of something like IV Reveille where for metaphors we have a beach and burning ship, a vault of some sort which is trampled (a vault? trampled?) followed by a tent and mysterious straws. All very grandiose and terribly silly. Move to II, Loveliest of trees, on the other hand and the one image of the tree is used brilliantly and complexly. But then I think most, if not all, of the soldier off to war poems Like Reveille are dreadful, sub-Kiplingesque. Always be suspicious when someone who never went to war cheers you on to recruiting.Housman may have been a minor poet but there are enough brilliant jewels in this ragbag to justify reading what is, after all, a very short collection.