Alfred Edward Housman (March 26, 1859 — April 30, 1936) was an English scholar and poet. His lyrics expressed a “Romantic pessimism” in a very spare, simple style. Housman enjoyed “expressing emotion but keeping it at a certain distance,” and his main models in poetry were Heinrich Heine and William Shakespeare. He regarded himself principally as a Latinist and was very skilled at the language and at understanding the flow of Roman poetry. (x)
Think No More, Lad
Think no more, lad; laugh, be jolly: Why should men make haste to die? Empty heads and tongues a-talking Make the rough road easy walking, And the feather pate of folly Bears the falling sky.
Oh, ‘tis jesting, dancing, drinking Spins the heavy world around. If young hearts were not so clever, Oh, they would be young for ever: Think no more; ‘tis only thinking Lays lads underground.
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.
Oh, See How Thick the Goldcup Flowers
Oh, see how thick the goldcup flowers Are lying in field and lane, With dandelions to tell the hours That never are told again. Oh may I squire you round the meads And pick you posies gay? –‘Twill do no harm to take my arm. ‘You may, young man, you may.’
Ah, spring was sent for lass and lad, ‘Tis now the blood runs gold, And man and maid had best be glad Before the world is old. What flowers to-day may flower to-morrow, But never as good as new. –Suppose I wound my arm right round– ”Tis true, young man, ’tis true.’
Some lads there are, ’tis shame to say, That only court to thieve, And once they bear the bloom away ‘Tis little enough they leave. Then keep your heart for men like me And safe from trustless chaps. My love is true and all for you. ‘Perhaps, young man, perhaps.’
Oh, look in my eyes then, can you doubt? –Why, ’tis a mile from town. How green the grass is all about! We might as well sit down. –Ah, life, what is it but a flower? Why must true lovers sigh? Be kind, have pity, my own, my pretty,– ‘Good-bye, young man, good-bye.’