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| More Poems |
written by Alfred Edward Housman
|1997||Link to further information|
They say my verse is sad: no wonder.
Its narrow measure spans
Rue for eternity, and sorrow
Not mine, but man's.
This is for all ill-treated fellows
Unborn and unbegot,
For them to read when they're in trouble
And I am not.
I. Easter Hymn
If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.
Bu if the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.
When Israel out of Egypt came
Safe in the sea they trod;
By day in cloud, by night in flame,
Went on before them God.
He brought them with a stretched out hand
Dry-footed through the foam,
Past sword and famine, rock and sand,
Lust and rebellion, home.
I never over Horeb heard
The blast of advent blow;
No fire-faced prophet brought me word
Which way behoved me go.
Ascended is the cloudy flame,
The mount of thunder dumb;
The tokens that to Israel came,
To me they are not come.
I see the country far away
Where I shall never stand;
The heart goes where no footstep may
Into the promised land.
For these of old the trader
Unpearled the Indian seas,
The nations of the nadir
Were diamondless for these;
A people prone and haggard
Beheld their lightnings hurled:
All round, like Sinai, staggered
The sceptre-shaken world.
But now their coins are tarnished,
Their towers decayed away,
Their kingdom swept and garnished
For haler kings then they;
Their arms the rust hath eaten,
Their statutes none regard:
Arabia shall not sweeten
Their dust, with all her nard.
They cease from long vexation,
Their nights, their days are done,
The pale, the perished nation
That never see the sun;
From the old deep-dusted annals
The years erase their tale,
And round them race the channels
That take no second sail.
IV. The Sage to the Young Man
O youth whose heart is right,
Whose loins are girt to gain
The hell-defended height
Where Virtue beckons plain;
Who seest the stark array
And hast not stayed to count
But singly wilt assay
The many-cannoned mount:
Well is thy war begun;
Endure, be strong and strive;
But think not, O my son,
To save thy soul alive.
Wilt thou be true and just
And clean and kind and brave?
Well; but for all thou dost
Be sure it shall not save.
Thou, when the night falls deep,
Thou, though the mount be won,
High heart, thou shalt but sleep
The sleep denied to none.
Other, or ever thou,
To scale those heights were sworn;
And some achieved, but now
They never see the morn.
How shouldst thou keep the prize?
Thou wast not born for aye.
Content thee if thine eyes
Behold it in thy day.
O youth that wilt attain,
On, for thine hour is short.
It may be thou shalt gain
The hell-defended fort.
V. Diffugere Nives, Horace—Odes, IV 7
The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws
And grasses in the mead renew their birth,
The river to the river-bed withdraws,
And altered is the fashion of the earth.
The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear
And unapparelled in the woodland play.
The swift hour and the brief prime of the year
Say to the soul, Thou was not born for aye.
Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring
Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers
Comes autumn, with his apples scattering;
Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.
But oh, whate'er the sky'led seasons mar,
Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams:
Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are,
And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.
Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add
The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?
Feast then thy heart, for what thy hear has had
The fingers of no heir will ever hold.
When thou descendest once the shades among,
The stern assize and equal judgment o'er,
Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,
No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.
Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,
Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;
And Theseus leaves Pirithoüs in the chain
The love of comrades cannot take away.
I to my perils
Of cheat and charmer
Came clad in armour
By star benign.
Hope lies to mortals
And most believe her,
But man's deceiver
Was never mine.
The thoughts of others
Were light and fleeting,
Of lovers' meeting
Or luck of fame
Mine were of trouble,
And mine were steady;
So I was ready
When trouble came.
Stars, I have see them fall,
But when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.
The toil of all that be
Helps not the primal fault'
It rains into the sea
And still the sea is salt.
Give me a land of boughs in leaf,
A land of trees that stand;
Where trees are fallen, there is grief;
I love no leafless land.
Alas, the country whence I fare,
It is where I would stay;
And where I would not, it is there
That I shall be for aye.
And one remembers, and one forgets,
But 'tis not found again,
Not though they hale in crimsoned nets
The sunset from the main.
When green buds hang in the elm like dust
And sprinkle the lime like rain,
Forth I wander, forth I must
And drink of life again.
Forth I must by hedgerow bowers
To look at the leaves uncurled
And stand in the fields where cuckoo-flowers
Are lying about the world.
The weeping Pleiads wester,
And the moon is under seas;
From bourn to bourn of midnight
Far sighs the rainy breeze:
It sighs from a lost country
To a land I have not known;
The weeping Pleiads wester,
And I lie down alone.
The rainy Pleiads wester,
Orion plunges prone,
The stroke of midnight ceases,
And I lie down alone.
The rainy Pleiads wester
And seek beyond the sea
The head that I shall dream of,
And 'twill not dream of me.
I promise nothing: friends will part;
All things may end, for all began;
And truth and singleness of heart
Are mortal even as is man.
But this unlucky love should last
When answered passions thin to air;
Eternal fate so deep has cast
Its sure foundation of despair.
I lay me down and slumber
And every morning revive.
Whose is the night-long breathing
That keeps a man alive?
When I was off to dreamland
And left my limbs forgot,
Who stayed at home to mind them,
And breathed when I did not?
For oh, 'twas never I
If I were you, young fellow,
I'd save what breath I had,
For sleepers cut the waking:
Oh, spare your pains, my lad.
—I waste my time in talking,
No heed at all takes he,
My kind and foolish comrade
That breathes all night for me.
The farms of home lie lost in even,
I see far off the steeple stand;
West and away, from here to heaven,
Still is the land.
There if I go no girl will greet me,
No comrade hollo from the hill,
No dog run down the yard to meet me:
The land is still.
The land is still by farm and steeple,
And still for me the land may stay:
There I was friends with perished people,
[And] there lie they.
Tarry, delight; so seldom met,
So sure to perish, tarry still.
Forbear to cease or languish yet,
Though soon you must and will
By Sestos town, in Hero's tower,
On Hero's heart Leander lies;
The signal torch has burned its hour
And sputters as it dies.
Beneath him, in the nighted firth,
Between two continents complain
The seas he swam from earth to earth
And he must swim again.
How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play,
How heaven out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from 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;
No 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.
Bells in tower at evening toll,
And the light forsakes the soul;
Soon will evening's self be gone
And the whispering night come on.
Blame not thou the faulting light
Nor the whispers of the night:
Though the whispering night were still,
Yet the heart would counsel ill.
Delight it is in youth and May
To see the morn arise,
And more delight, or so they say,
To read in lovers' eyes.
Oh maiden, let your distaff be,
And pace the flowery meads with me,
And I will tell you lies.
'Tis blithe to see the sunshine fail,
And hear the land grow still
And listen till the nightingale
Is heard beneath the hill.
Oh follow me where she is flown
Into the leafy woods alone,
And I will work you ill.
The mill-stream, now that noises cease,
Is all that does not hold its peace;
Under the bridge it murmurs by,
And here are night and hell and I.
Who made the world I cannot tell:
'Tis made, and here am I in hell.
My hand, though now my knuckles bleed,
I never soiled with such a deed.
And so, no doubt, in time gone by
Some have suffered more than I,
Who only spend the night alone
And strike my fist upon the stone.
Like min, the veins of these that slumber
Leapt once with dancing fires divine;
The blood of all this noteless number
Ran red like mine.
How still, with every pulse in station,
Frost in the founts that used to leap,
The thralls of night, the perished nation,
How sound they sleep!
These too, these veins which life convulses,
Wait but a while, shall cease to bound;
I with the ice in all my pulses
Shall sleep as sound.
The world goes none the lamer,
For aught that I can see,
Because this cursed trouble
Has struck my days and me.
The stars of heaven are steady,
The founded hills remain,
Though I to earth and darkness
Return in blood and pain.
Farewell to all belongings
I won or bought or stole;
Farewell, my lusty carcass,
Farewell, my aery soul.
Oh worse remains for others
And worse to fear had I
Than so at four-and-twenty
To lay me down and die.
Ho, everyone that thirsteth
And hath the price to give,
Come to the stolen waters,
Drink and your soul shall live.
Come to the stolen waters,
And leap the guarded pale,
And pull the flower in season
Before desire shall fail.
It shall not last for ever,
No more than earth and skies;
But he that drinks in season
Shall live before he dies.
June suns, you cannot store them
To warm the winter's cold,
The lad that hopes for heaven
Shall fill his mouth with mould.
Crossing alone the nighted ferry
With the one cone for fee,
Whom, on the far quayside in waiting,
Count you to find? not me.
The fond lackey to fetch and carry,
The true, sick-hearted slave,
Expect him not in the just city
And free land of the grave.
Stone, steel, dominions pass,
Faith too, no wonder;
So leave alone the grass
That I am under.
All knots that lovers tie
Are tied to sever.
Here shall your sweetheart lie
Untrue for ever.
Yon flakes that fret the eastern sky
Lead back my day of birth;
The far, wide-wandered hour when I
Came crying upon the earth.
Then came I crying, and to-day,
With heavier cause to plain,
Despair I into death away,
Not to be born again.
XXVI. I Counsel You Beware
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.
To stand up straight and tread the turning mill,
To lie flat and know nothing and be still,
Are the two trades of man; and which is worse
I know not, but I know that both are ill.
He, standing hushed, a pace or two apart,
Among the bluebells of the listless plain,
Thinks, and remembers how he cleansed his heart
And washed his hands in innocence in vain.
From the wash the laundress sends
My collars home with ravelled ends:
I must fit, now these are frayed,
My neck with new ones, London-made.
Homespun collars, homespun hearts,
Wear to rags in foreign parts.
Mine at least's as good as done,
And I must get a London one.
Shake hands, we shall never be friends; give over:
I only vex you the more I try.
All's wrong that ever I've done and said,
And nought to help it in this dull head:
Shake hands, goodnight, goodbye.
But if you come to a road where danger
Or guilt or anguish or shame's to share,
Be good to the lad that loves you true
Ad the soul that was born to die for you,
And whistle and I'll be there.
Because I like you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you and I promised
I'd throw the thought away.
To put the world between us
We parted stiff and dry:
"Farewell," said you, "forget me."
"Fare well, I will," said I.
If e'er, wehre clover whitens
The dead man's knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
Starts in the trefoiled grass,
Halt by the headstone shading
The heart you have not stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
was one that kept his word.
Their seed the sowers scatter
Behind them as they go.
Poor lads, 'tis little matter
How many sorts they sow,
For only one will grow.
The charlock on the fallow
Will take the traveller's eyes,
And gild the ploughland sallow
With flowers before it dies,
But twice 'twill not arise.
The stinging-nettle only
Will aye be found to stand:
The numberless, the lonely,
The filler of the land,
The leaf that hurts the hand.
That thrives, come sun, come showers;
Blow east, blow west, it springs;
It peoples towns and towers
About the courts of Kings,
And touch it and it stings.
On forelands high in heaven,
'Tis many a year gone by,
Amidst the fall of even
Would stand my friends and I.
Before our foolish faces
Lay lands we did not see;
Our eyes were in the places
Where we should never be.
"Oh, the pearl seas are yonder,
The gold and amber shore;
Shires where the girls are fonder,
Towns where the pots hold more.
And here fust we and moulder
By grange and rick and shed
And every moon are older,
And soon we shall be dead."
Heigho, 'twas true and pity;
But there we lads must stay.
Troy was a steepled city,
But Troy was far away.
And home we turned lamenting
To plains we longed to leave
And silent hills indenting
The orange band of eve.
I see the air benighted
And all the dusking dales,
And lamps in England lighted,
And evening wrecked on Wales.
And starry darkness paces
The road from sea to sea,
And blots the foolish faces
Of my poor friends and me.
Young is the blood that yonder
Strides out the dusty mile
And breasts the hill-side highway
And whistles loud the while
And vaults the stile
Yet backs, I think, have burdens
And shoulders carry care:
So fell the flesh its portion
When I and not my heir
Was young and there.
On miry meads in winter
THe football sprang and fell,
May stuck the land with wickets:
For all that eye could tell
The world went well.
Yet well, God knows, it went not,
God knows, it went awry;
For me, one flowery Maytime,
It went so ill that I
Designed to die.
And if so long I carry
The lot that season marred,
'Tis that the sons of Adam
Are not so evil-starred
As they are hard.
Young is the blood that yonder
Succeeds to rick and fold,
Fresh are the form and favour
And new the minted mould:
The thoughts are old.
Half-way, for one commandment broken,
The woman made her endless halt,
And she today, a glistering token,
Stands in the wilderness of salt.
Behind, the vats of judgment brewing
Thundered, and thick the brimstone snowed
He to the hill of his undoing
Pursued his road.
Here the dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is, and we were young.
I did not lose my heart in summer's even,
When roses to the moonrise burst apart:
When plumes were under heel and lead was flying,
In blood and smoke and flame I lost my heart.
I lost it to a soldier and a foeman,
A chap that did not kill me, but he tried;
That took the sabre straight and took it striking
And laughed and kissed his hand to me and died.
By shores and woods and steeples
Rejoicing hearts receive
Poured on a hundred peoples
The far-shed alms of eve.
Her hands are filled with slumber
For world-wide labourers worn;
Yet those are more in number
That know her not from morn.
Now who sees night for ever,
He sees no happier sight:
Night and no moon and never
A star upon the night.
My dreams are of a field afar
And bloods and smoke and shot.
There in their graves my comrades are,
In my grave I am not.
I too was taught the trade of man
And spelt my lesson plain;
But they, when I forgot and ran,
Remembered and remain.
Farewell to a name and a number
To darkness and silence and slumber
In blood and pain.
So time coils round in a ring
And home comes he
A soldier cheap to the king
And dear to me;
So smothers in blood the burning
And flaming flight
Of valour and truth returning
To dust and night.
He looked at me with eyes I thought
I was not like to find,
The voice he begged for pence with
Brought another man to mind.
Oh no, lad, never touch your cap;
It is not my half-crown:
You have it from a better chap
That long ago lay down.
Once he stept out but now my friend
Is not in marching trim
And you must tramp to the world's end
To touch your cap to him.
XLII. A. J. J.
When he's returned I'll tell him—oh,
Dear fellow, I forgot:
Time was you would have cared to know,
But now it matters not.
I mourn you, and you heed not how;
Unsaid the word must stay;
Last month was time enough, but now
The new must keep for aye.
Oh, many a month before I learn
Will find me starting still
And listening, as the days return,
For him that never will.
Strange, strange to think his blood is cold
And mine flows easy on,
And that straight look, that heart of gold,
That grace, that manhood, gone.
The word unsaid will stay unsaid
Though there was much to say;
Last month was time enough: he's dead,
The news must keep for aye.
I wake from dreams and turning
My vision on the height;
I scan the beacons burning
About the fields of night.
Each in its steadfast station
Inflaming heaven they flare;
They sign with conflagration
The empty moors of air.
The signal-fires of warning
They blaze, but none regard;
And on through night to morning
The world runs ruinward.
Far known to sea and shore,
Foursquare to sea and shore,
A thousand years it bore,
And then the belfry fell.
The steersman of Triest
Looked where his mark should be,
But empty was the west
And Venice under sea.
From dusty wreck dispersed
Its stature mounts amain;
On surer foot than first
Then belfry stands again.
At to-fall of the day
Again its curfew tolls
And burdens away
The green and sanguine shoals.
It looks to north and south,
It looks to east and west;
It guides to Lido mouth
The steersman of Triest.
Andrea, fare you well;
Venice, farewell to thee.
The tower that stood and fell
Is not rebuilt in me.
Smooth between sea and land
Is laid the yellow sand,
And here through summer days
The seed of Adam plays.
Here the child comes to found
His unremaining mound,
And the grown lad to score
Two names upon the shore.
Here on the level sand,
Between the sea and land,
What shall I build or write
Against the fall of night?
Tell me of runes to grave
That hold the bursting wave,
Or bastions to design
For longer date than mine.
Shall it be Troy or Rome
I fence against the foam,
Or my own name, to stay
When I depart for aye?
Nothing: too near at hand,
Planing the figured sand,
Effacing clean and fast
Cities not built to last
And charms devised in vain,
Pours the confounding main.
XLVI. The Land of Biscay
Hearken, landsmen, hearken, seaman, to the tale of grief and me
Looking from the land of Biscay on the waters of the sea.
Looking from the land of Biscay over Ocean to the sky
On the far-beholding foreland paced at even grief and I.
There, as warm the west was burning and the east uncoloured cold,
Down the waterway of sunset drove to shore a ship of gold.
Gold of mast and gold of cordage, gold of sail to sight was she,
And she glassed her ensign golden in the waters of the sea.
Oh, said I, my friend and lover, take we now that ship and sail
Outward in the ebb of hues and steer upon the sunset trail;
Leave the night to fall behind us and the clouding countries leave:
Help for you and me is yonder, in a haven west of eve.
Under hill she neared the harbour, till the gazer could behold
On the golden deck the steersman standing at the helm of gold,
Man and ship and sky and water burning in a single flame;
And the mariner of Ocean, he was calling as he came:
From the highway of the sunset he was shouting on the sea,
"Landsman of the land of Biscay, have you help for grief and me?"
When I heard I did not answer, I stood mute and shook my head:
Son of earth and son of Ocean, much we thought and nothing said.
Grief and I abode the nightfall, to the sunset grief and he
Turned them from the land of Biscay on the waters of the sea.
O thou that from thy mansion,
Through time and place to roam,
Dost send abroad thy children,
And then dost call them home,
That men and tribes and nations
And all thy hand hath made
May shelter them from sunshine
In thine eternal shade.
We now to peace and darkness
And earth and thee restore
Thy creature that thou madest
And wilt cast forth no more.
XLVIII. Parta Quies
Good-night; ensured release,
Have these for yours,
While sea abides, and land,
And earth's foundations stand,
And heaven endures.
When earth's foundations flee,
Nor sky nor land nor sea
At all is found,
Content you, let them burn:
It is not your concern;
Sleep on, sleep sound.
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