23+ Best Alfred Edward Housman Poems You Must Read

Alfred Edward Housman, usually known as A. E. Housman, was an English classical scholar and poet, best known to the general public for his cycle of poems A Shropshire Lad.

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Famous Edward Housman poems

Vi: Lancer

I ‘listed at home for a lancer,
Oh who would not sleep with the brave?
I ‘listed at home for a lancer
To ride on a horse to my grave.

And over the seas we were bidden
A country to take and to keep;
And far with the brave I have ridden,
And now with the brave I shall sleep.

For round me the men will be lying
That learned me the way to behave,
And showed me my business of dying:
Oh who would not sleep with the brave?

They ask, and there is not an answer;
Says I, I will ‘list for a lancer,
Oh who would not sleep with the brave?

And I with the brave shall be sleeping
At ease on my mattress of loam,
When back from their taking and keeping
The squadron is riding at home.

The wind with the plumes will be playing,
The girls will stand watching them wave,
And eyeing my comrades and saying
Oh who would not sleep with the brave?

They ask, and there is not an answer;
Says you, I will ‘list for a lancer,
Oh who would not sleep with the brave?

Xxii: The Sloe Was Lost In Flower

The sloe was lost in flower,
The April elm was dim;
That was the lover’s hour,
The hour for lies and him.

If thorns are all the bower,
If north winds freeze the fir,
Why, ’tis another’s hour,
The hour for truth and her.

Xxviii: Now Dreary Dawns The Eastern Light

ow dreary dawns the eastern light,
And fall of eve is drear,
And cold the poor man lies at night,
And so goes out the year.

Little is the luck I’ve had,
And oh, ’tis comfort small
To think that many another lad
Has had no luck at all.

Xii: An Epitaph

Stay, if you list, O passer by the way;
Yet night approaches; better not to stay.
I never sigh, nor flush, nor knit the brow,
Nor grieve to think how ill God made me, now.
Here, with one balm for many fevers found,
Whole of an ancient evil, I sleep sound.

Xix: The Mill Stream Now That Noises Cease

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 I am 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.

Her Strong Enchantments Failing

Her strong enchantments failing,
Her towers of fear in wreck,
Her limbecks dried of poisons
And the knife at her neck,

The Queen of air and darkness
Begins to shrill and cry,
‘O young man, O my slayer,
To-morrow you shall die.’

O Queen of air and darkness,
I think ’tis truth you say,
And I shall die tomorrow;
But you will die to-day.

Xxxv: When First My Way To Fair I Took

When first my way to fair I took
Few pence in purse had I,
And long I used to stand and look
At things I could not buy.

Now times are altered: if I care
To buy a thing, I can;
The pence are here and here’s the fair,
But where’s the lost young man?

– To think that two and two are four
And neither five nor three
The heart of man has long been sore
And long ’tis like to be.

Xxxvi: Revolution

West and away the wheels of darkness roll,
Day’s beamy banner up the east is borne,
Spectres and fears, the nightmare and her foal,
Drown in the golden deluge of the morn.

But over sea and continent from sight
Safe to the Indies has the earth conveyed
The vast and moon-eclipsing cone of night,
Her towering foolscap of eternal shade.

See, in mid heaven the sun is mounted; hark,
The belfries tingle to the noonday chime.
‘Tis silent, and the subterranean dark
Has crossed the nadir, and begins to climb.

Xvii: Astronomy

The Wain upon the northern steep
Descends and lifts away.
Oh I will sit me down and weep
For bones in Africa.

For pay and medals, name and rank,
Things that he has not found,
He hove the Cross to heaven and sank
The pole-star underground.

And now he does not even see
Signs of the nadir roll
At night over the ground where he
Is buried with the pole.

Xxi: The World Goes None The Lamer

The world goes none the lamer
For ought 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 carcase,
Farewell, my aery soul.

Oh worse remains for others
And worse to fear had I
Than here at four-and-twenty
To lay me down and die.

Xvi: Spring Morning

Star and coronal and bell
April underfoot renews,
And the hope of man as well
Flowers among the morning dews.

Now the old come out to look,
Winter past and winter’s pains,
How the sky in pool and brook
Glitters on the grassy plains.

Easily the gentle air
Wafts the turning season on;
Things to comfort them are there,
Though ’tis true the best are gone.

Now the scorned unlucky lad
Rousing from his pillow gnawn
Mans his heart and deep and glad
Drinks the valiant air of dawn.

Half the night he longed to die,
Now are sown on hill and plain
Pleasures worth his while to try
Ere he longs to die again.

Blue the sky from east to west
Arches, and the world is wide,
Though the girl he loves the best
Rouses from another’s side.

Revolution

West and away the wheels of darkness roll,
Day’s beamy banner up the east is borne,
Spectres and fears, the nightmare and her foal,
Drown in the golden deluge of the morn.

But over sea and continent from sight
Safe to the Indies has the earth conveyed
The vast and moon-eclipsing cone of night,
Her towering foolscap of eternal shade.

See, in mid heaven the sun is mounted; hark,
The belfries tingle to the noonday chime.
‘Tis silent, and the subterranean dark
Has crossed the nadir, and begins to climb.

Soldier from the wars returning

Soldier from the wars returning,
Spoiler of the taken town,
Here is ease that asks not earning;
Turn you in and sit you down.

Peace is come and wars are over,
Welcome you and welcome all,
While the charger crops the clover
And his bridle hangs in stall.

Now no more of winters biting,
Filth in trench from tall to spring,
Summers full of sweat and fighting
For the Kesar or the King.

Rest you, charger, rust you, bridle;
Kings and kesars, keep your pay;
Soldier, sit you down and idle
At the inn of night for aye.

When The Eye Of Day Is Shut

When the eye of day is shut,
And the stars deny their beams,
And about the forest hut
Blows the roaring wood of dreams,

From deep clay, from desert rock,
From the sunk sands of the main,
Come not at my door to knock,
Hearts that loved me not again.

Sleep, be still, turn to your rest
In the lands where you are laid;
In far lodgings east and west
Lie down on the beds you made.

In gross marl, in blowing dust,
In the drowned ooze of the sea,
Where you would not, lie you must,
Lie you must, and not with me.

Hell’s Gate

Onward led the road again
Through the sad uncoloured plain
Under twilight brooding dim,
And along the utmost rim
Wall and rampart risen to sight
Cast a shadow not of night,
And beyond them seemed to glow
Bonfires lighted long ago.
And my dark conductor broke
Silence at my side and spoke,
Saying, ‘You conjecture well:
Yonder is the gate of hell.’

Ill as yet the eye could see
The eternal masonry,
But beneath it on the dark
To and fro there stirred a spark.
And again the sombre guide
Knew my question, and replied:
‘At hell gate the damned in turn
Pace for sentinel and burn.’

Dully at the leaden sky
Staring, and with idle eye
Measuring the listless plain,
I began to think again.
Many things I thought of then,
Battle, and the loves of men,
Cities entered, oceans crossed,
Knowledge gained and virtue lost,
Cureless folly done and said,
And the lovely way that led
To the slimepit and the mire
And the everlasting fire.
And against a smoulder dun
And a dawn without a sun
Did the nearing bastion loom,
And across the gate of gloom
Still one saw the sentry go,
Trim and burning, to and fro,
One for women to admire
In his finery of fire.
Something, as I watched him pace,
Minded me of time and place,
Soldiers of another corps
And a sentry known before.

Ever darker hell on high
Reared its strength upon the sky,
And our footfall on the track
Fetched the daunting echo back.
But the soldier pacing still
The insuperable sill,
Nursing his tormented pride,
Turned his head to neither side,
Sunk into himself apart
And the hell-fire of his heart.
But against our entering in
From the drawbridge Death and Sin
Rose to render key and sword
To their father and their lord.
And the portress foul to see
Lifted up her eyes on me
Smiling, and I made reply:
‘Met again, my lass,’ said I.
Then the sentry turned his head,
Looked, and knew me, and was Ned.

Once he looked, and halted straight,
Set his back against the gate,
Caught his musket to his chin,
While the hive of hell within
Sent abroad a seething hum
As of towns whose king is come
Leading conquest home from far
And the captives of his war,
And the car of triumph waits,
And they open wide the gates.
But across the entry barred
Straddled the revolted guard,
Weaponed and accoutred well
From the arsenals of hell;
And beside him, sick and white,
Sin to left and Death to right
Turned a countenance of fear
On the flaming mutineer.
Over us the darkness bowed,
And the anger in the cloud
Clenched the lightning for the stroke;
But the traitor musket spoke.

And the hollowness of hell
Sounded as its master fell,
And the mourning echo rolled
Ruin through his kingdom old.
Tyranny and terror flown
Left a pair of friends alone,
And beneath the nether sky
All that stirred was he and I.

Silent, nothing found to say,
We began the backward way;
And the ebbing luster died
From the soldier at my side,
As in all his spruce attire
Failed the everlasting fire.
Midmost of the homeward track
Once we listened and looked back;
But the city, dusk and mute,
Slept, and there was no pursuit.

Xxxix: Tis Time, I Think, By Wenlock Town

‘Tis time, I think, by Wenlock town
The golden broom should blow;
The hawthorn sprinkled up and down
Should charge the land with snow.

Spring will not wait the loiterer’s time
Who keeps so long away;
So others wear the broom and climb
The hedgerows heaped with may.

Oh tarnish late on Wenlock Edge,
Gold that I never see;
Lie long, high snowdrifts in the hedge
That will not shower on me.

Xl: Farewell To A Name And Number

Farewell to a name and a number
Recalled again
To darkness and silence and slumber
In blood and pain.

So ceases and turns to the thing
He was born to be
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.

Xvii: The Stars Have Not Dealt Me The Worst They Could Do

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they’re taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

‘Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time ’twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn’t bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.

Oh a deal of pains he’s taken and a pretty price he’s paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they’ve pulled the beggar’s hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they’re haling him to justice for the colour of his hair.

Now ’tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet
And the quarry-gang on Portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair.

Xx: The Night Is Freezing Fast

The night is freezing fast,
To-morrow comes December;
And winterfalls of old
Are with me from the past;
And chiefly I remember
How Dick would hate the cold.

Fall, winter, fall; for he,
Prompt hand and headpiece clever,
Has woven a winter robe,
And made of earth and sea
His overcoat for ever,
And wears the turning globe.

Xviii: The Rain It Streams On Stone And Hillock

The rain, it streams on stone and hillock,
The boot clings to the clay.
Since all is done that’s due and right
Let’s home; and now, my lad, good-night,
For I must turn away.

Good-night, my lad, for nought’s eternal;
No league of ours, for sure.
To-morrow I shall miss you less,
And ache of heart and heaviness
Are things that time should cure.

Over the hill the highway marches
And what’s beyond is wide:
Oh soon enough will pine to nought
Remembrance and the faithful thought
That sits the grave beside.

The skies, they are not always raining
Nor grey the twelvemonth through;
And I shall meet good days and mirth,
And range the lovely lands of earth
With friends no worse than you.

But oh, my man, the house is fallen
That none can build again;
My man, how full of joy and woe
Your mother bore you years ago
To-night to lie in the rain.

Xxvi: Good Creatures Do You Love Your Lives

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.

Xv: ‘Tis Five Years Since, An End Said I

‘Tis five years since, An end,' said I; I’ll march no further, time to die.
All’s lost; no worse has heaven to give.’
Worse has it given, and yet I live.

I shall not die to-day, no fear:
I shall live yet for many a year,
And see worse ills and worse again,
And die of age and not of pain.

When God would rear from earth aloof
The blue height of the hollow roof,
He sought him pillars sure and strong,
And ere he found them sought them long.

The stark steel splintered from the thrust,
The basalt mountain sprang to dust,
The blazing pier of diamond flawed
In shards of rainbow all abroad.

What found he, that the heavens stand fast?
What pillar proven firm at last
Bears up so light that world-seen span?
The heart of man, the heart of man.

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