Tag Archives: a e housman

When I Watch the Living Meet by Alfred Edward Housman

On Sunday 1 August, I took down my copy of A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad. Whilst I am an admirer of Housman’s work, as with all poets and authors, certain of his writings resonate with me more so than do others. One such poem is “When I Watch the Living Meet”, which appears in A Shropshire Lad and is reproduced below. For more about Alfred Edward Housman please visit https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/a-e-housman. For the free ebook of A Shropshire Lad please see https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5720.

When I watch the living meet,
And the moving pageant file
Warm and breathing through the street
Where I lodge a little while,

If the heats of hate and lust
In the house of flesh are strong,
Let me mind the house of dust
Where my sojourn shall be long.

In the nation that is not
Nothing stands that stood before;
There revenges are forgot,
And the hater hates no more;

Lovers lying two and two
Ask not whom they sleep beside,
And the bridegroom all night through
Never turns him to the bride.

Oscar and Housman

Oscar turned pale
And languished in Reading Gaol
For “the love that dare not speak it’s name”.
It was society’s shame
That he found no peace
And died soon after his release.

Housman remained buttoned up
And took
Pains to hide
Inside his verse.

The poet wrote of lads dying young.
Neither he nor Oscar swung
For their “crime”,
And we are left with the rhyme
Of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”
And a poet who hid his “curse”
Within his verse.

“The Sigh That Heaves The Grasses” By A E Housman

The sigh that heaves the grasses
Whence thou wilt never rise
Is of the air that passes
And knows not if it sighs.

The diamond tears adorning
Thy low mound on the lea,
Those are the tears of morning,
That weeps, but not for thee.

I like the unsentimental nature of this poem. As with much of Housman’s verse, there is no sentimentality here. Some poets attribute human qualaties to the natural world. Not so Housman. In “The Sigh That Heaves The Grasses”, the forces of nature: (the air and the dew), have no awareness of themselves, nor of the dead who sleeps in the “low mound on the lea” The morning dew resembles human tears shed for the dead, but it is not (and can not) be so, for the dew is not human.

Life is but a dream

I spent the earlier portion of this evening with my old friend Jeff. As ever, our conversation ranged far and wide. One topic on which we dwelt at length revolved around what constitutes reality and how, at any given point we can be certain that what we are experiencing is real. When one dies, my friend remarked, the world ceases to exist. While I don’t wish to get into whether my dear friend is, in fact right, I had in the back of my mind during the entirety of our conversation a poem by A. E. Housman and, on returning home I felt compelled to look it up. The lines run thus:

“Good creatures, do you love your lives
And have you ears for sense?
Here is a knife like other knives,
That cost me eighteen pence.

I need but stick it in my heart
And down will come the sky,
And earth’s foundations will depart
And all you folk will die”.


The Laws Of God By A E Housman

  1. Housman (1895-1936) was a homosexual at a time when to be so was punishable by imprisonment. Unlike Oscare Wilde, Housman avoided imprisonment, (Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Jail where he penned the powerful and moving “Balad of Reading Jail”). The below poem by Housman does, I think need to be read in the context of Housman’s homosexuality.

“The laws of God, the laws of man,

He may keep that will and can;

Not I: let God and man decree

Laws for themselves and not for me;

And if my ways are not as theirs

Let them mind their own affairs.

Their deeds I judge and much condemn,

Yet when did I make laws for them?

Please yourselves, say I, and they

Need only look the other way.

But no, they will not; they must still

Wrest their neighbor to their will,

And make me dance as they desire

With jail and gallows and hell-fire.

And how am I to face the odds

Of man’s bedevilment and God’s?

I, a stranger and afraid

In a world I never made.

They will be master, right or wrong;

Though both are foolish, both are strong.

And since, my soul, we cannot fly

To Saturn nor to Mercury,

Keep we must, if keep we can,

These foreign laws of God and man”.

The Land Of Lost Content By A. E. Housman

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.

The Remorseful Day

I was reminded of the below poem by A. E. Housman, while watching a dramatisation of “The Remorseful Day”, the last in the Inspector Morse series, in which Morse meets his maker (or perhaps not as Morse is an atheist).

Houseman brilliantly captures the desire of man to mend his ways, to become a better person but, in the final verse all hopes are reduced to dust and, as Housman puts it

“falls the remorseful day”.




“How clear, how lovely bright,

How beautiful to sight

Those beams of morning play;

How heaven laughs out with glee

Where, like a bird set free,

Up from the eastern sea

Soars the delightful day.


To-day I shall be strong,

No more shall yield to wrong,

Shall squander life no more;

Days lost, I know not how,

I shall retrieve them now;

Now I shall keep the vow

I never kept before.


Ensanguining the skies

How heavily it dies

Into the west away;

Past touch and sight and sound

Not further to be found,

How hopeless under ground

Falls the remorseful day.”

Epitaph On An Army Of Mercenaries By A E Housman

I like the unsentimental nature of this poem which never fails to bring a smile to my lips:



“These, in the day when heaven was falling,


The hour when earth’s foundations fled,


Followed their mercenary calling,


And took their wages, and are dead.


Their shoulders held the sky suspended;


They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;


What God abandoned, these defended,


And saved the sum of things for pay.”