Shropshire Lad, A
A Shropshire Lad
Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi Thēbas; Septem contra Thebas) to Sir Walter Scott and Scotland
A. E. Housman's first collection of verse, published in 1896, consisting of sixty-three poems united by their profound lyrical melancholy and the Shropshire setting suggested by the recurrence of various place-names. The poems also have in common their consummate fluency of versification in traditional forms; Housman's virtuosity as a metricist produces results of remarkable elegance within the narrow confines of the ballad stanzas which predominate. He referred to Shakespeare's songs, the Scottish border ballads, and the poetry of Heinrich Heine as precedents for the fusion of simplicity and sophistication the poems characteristically exhibit. Although the volume was first published at his own expense, by 1900 it enjoyed considerable commercial success. Imaginative retrospection on the ‘blue remembered hills’ to the west in Housman's Worcestershire childhood creates an arcadia blighted by the romantic unhappiness and repeatedly fatal misfortunes of the youthful protagonists; love and war are leitmotifs in many poems, which share their stark philosophical pessimism with much of Thomas Hardy's writing. The epigrammatic economy and stoical austerity of the work are indications of Housman's classical orientation; George Orwell remarked on the ‘bitter, defiant paganism’ that gave the book a marked appeal to his generation in its adolescence. The archetypally English ‘land of lost content’ of the poems, inhabited by ‘lads that will die in their glory and never be old’, appealed profoundly to the public's temperament during the First World War; A Shropshire Lad became ineradicably impressed upon the national consciousness and has since been constantly in print. Several of the poems have also, to Housman's dislike, been set to music by many composers including Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth, and Ivor Gurney.
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