We’ve just spent a week in Shropshire – lovely county made lovelier by the weather. I think we enjoyed the best week of the summer!
Of course it’s the county of poetry – the poetry of Housman – and as he’s always been a favourite of mine (largely, it has to be said, through the musical settings of his work I’ve sung on various occasions) but I thought today I’d share a poem that is neither from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ nor — as far as I’m aware – known chiefly as a song thanks to the efforts of George Butterworth, Ivor Gurney or Graham Peel. It’s entitled simply XL and comes from the collection ‘Last Poems’ selected by Housman from his unpublished work for the benefit of his dying friend, Moses Jackson.
Housman’s own rather self-effacing introduction states baldy that:
‘I publish these poems, few though they are, because it is not likely that I shall ever be impelled to write much more…’
But the collection contains some gems that deserve better recognition, among them this:
Tell me not here, it needs not saying,
What tune the enchantress plays
In aftermaths of soft September
Or under blanching mays,
For she and I were long acquainted
And I knew all her ways.
On russet floors, by waters idle,
The pine lets fall its cone;
The cuckoo shouts all day at nothing
In leafy dells alone;
And traveller’s joy beguiles in autumn
Hearts that have lost their own.
On acres of the seeded grasses
The changing burnish heaves;
Or marshalled under moons of harvest
Stand still all night the sheaves;
Or beeches strip in storms for winter
And stain the wind with leaves.
Posses, as I possessed a season,
The countries I resign,
Where over elmy plains the highway
Would mount the hills and shine,
And full of shade the pillared forest
Would murmur and be mine.
For nature, heartless, witless nature,
Will neither care nor know
What stranger’s feet may find the meadow
And trespass there and go,
Nor ask amid the dews of morning
If they are mine or no.