Happy Birthday Housman


An encouragement here to the self-published author.  A.E Housman wrote his book of 63 poems entitled “A Shropshire Lad” but could not find a publisher to print them.  So he took matters into his own hands and part funded the publication.

Housman was born March 26th 1859.  Apart from being a very popular poet he was also a classical scholar, and possibly the most respected classicist in his day.  He shares his birthday with none less than Robert Frost.  Two such titans of Poetry deserve separate birthday posts, so Frost must wait another year.

From a slow start in 1896 the popularity of the book snowballed and it has remained in print ever since.  The poems have appeared in song lyrics and later in film.  There is a funeral oration scene from “Out of Africa” where Meryl Streep reads “To an athlete dying young” , George Emerson carries a copy of “A Shropshire Lad” in “Room With A View”  and this short couple of verses makes an appearance at the very end of the movie “Walkabout”.

XL. Into my heart on air that kills: by A.E. Housman
(from A Shropshire Lad)

Into my heart on 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.

To live forever – die young

The young are forgiven their flaws and their faults.  They are not so set in their ways that their little foibles become annoying.  Those who die young are enveloped in a halo of perfect innocence, good intention and idealism.  And young is a relative term, it applies to John F Kennedy, Gaius Julius Caesar and John Lennon.  You can have a fairly illustrious career and still manage to die young.

Achilles, Kurt Cobain, Kevin Barry, Che Guevara, Micheal Collins all died still wearing their halo. We wonder what Martin Luther King Jr and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart might have achieved had they only lived longer.   Agamemnon, Paul McCartney, Fidel Castro, Adolf Hitler and Eamon DeValera hung on too long and lost that shine of wonder.  We feel we heard all the words that Dickens had to write, and all the songs that Sinatra had to sing, but Elvis, maybe he had another few left!  You have to know when to bow out.

Even a withdrawal from public life can serve in the place of an early death.  Harper Lee, JD Salinger and Marcel Proust all did a “Greta Garbo” and sealed their youthful fame in the mystery of recluse.

To be really famous you have to be scarce!

To an Athlete Dying Young: by A E Housman

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Plunder & flesh

Ouzel plaque on site of original Chamber of Commerce, Dublin

Ouzel plaque on site of original Chamber of Commerce, Dublin

There is a great story from Dublin about the Galley Ouzel(Blackbird).  She was declared lost at sea and insurance was paid out when she failed to return after three years at sea.  Two years after being declared lost the Ouzel sailed up the Liffey river into immortality.  Her hold was filled with spices and pirate booty.  The funds realised by her sale created the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, and the chamber has to this day, as its seal, the galley Ouzel.  Was the galley siezed by pirates?  Or were the sailors pirates themselves?  To this day, who knows?


Home is the sailor, home from sea:

Her far-borne canvas furled

The ship pours shining on the quay

The plunder of the world.


Home is the hunter from the hill:

Fast in the boundless snare

All flesh lies taken at his will

And every fowl of air.


‘Tis evening on the moorland free,

The starlit wave is still:

Home is the sailor from the sea,

The hunter from the hill.


A.E. Housman