A. E. Housman - Selected Poems

The following is a (fairly extensive) selection of Housman's poetry originally published by me, Martin Hardcastle, in the early 1990s. It has been superseded by the collected Housman page and that's probably where you want to be.

To ask me a question or send me a comment, please read this. There are some questions I won't answer: don't waste your time asking them.

Some other Housman resources are available on the web. Housman's introductory lecture as professor at University College London is available here, and his Leslie Stephen lecture, The Name and Nature of Poetry, is also available. ‘Fragment of a Greek Tragedy’ can be found here.

Some biographical information (short and in some cases misleading) is here (Bartleby) and here (BedfordStMartins). There is also always the Wikipedia page. Here is a small list of frequently asked questions about Housman (frequently asked of me, that is).

Go to my poetry page.


From "A Shropshire Lad."

I - 1887

 From Clee to heaven the beacon burns,
  The shires have seen it plain,
From north and south the sign returns
  And beacons burn again.
Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
  The dales are light between,
Because 'tis fifty years to-night
  That God has saved the Queen.
Now, when the flame they watch not towers
  About the soil they trod,
Lads, we'll remember friends of ours
  Who shared the work with God.
To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
  To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home tonight:
  Themselves they could not save.
It dawns in Asia, tombstones show
  And Shropshire names are read;
And the Nile spills his overflow
  Beside the Severn's dead.
We pledge in peace by farm and town
  The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
  The land they perished for.
'God save the Queen' we living sing,
  From height to height 'tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
  Lads of the Fifty-third.
Oh, God will save her, fear you not;
  Be you the men you've been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
  And God will save the Queen.


Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.


Wake: the silver dusk returning
  Up the beach of darkness brims,
And the ship of sunrise burning
  Strands upon the eastern rims.
Wake: the vaulted shadow shatters,
  Trampled to the floor it spanned,
And the tent of night in tatters
  Straws the sky-pavilioned land.
Up, lad, up, 'tis late for lying:
  Hear the drums of morning play;
Hark, the empty highways crying
  `Who'll beyond the hills away?'
Towns and countries woo together,
  Forelands beacon, belfries call;
Never lad that trod on leather
  Lived to feast his heart with all.
Up, lad: thews that lie and cumber
  Sunlit pallets never thrive;
Morns abed and daylight slumber
  Were not meant for man alive.
Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
  Breath's a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad: when the journey's over
  There'll be time enough to sleep.


On moonlit heath and lonesome bank
  The sheep beside me graze;
And yon the gallows used to clank
  Fast by the four cross ways.
A careless shepherd once would keep
  The flocks by moonlight there,[1]
And high amongst the glimmering sheep
  The dead man stood on air.
They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail:
  The whistles blow forlorn,
And trains all night groan on the rail
  To men that die at morn.
There sleeps in Shrewsbury jail to-night,
  Or wakes, as may betide,
A better lad, if things went right,
  Than most that sleep outside.
And naked to the hangman's noose
  The morning clocks will ring
A neck God made for other use
  Than strangling in a string.
And sharp the link of life will snap,
  And dead on air will stand
Heels that held up as straight a chap
  As treads upon the land.
So here I'll watch the night and wait
  To see the morning shine,
When he will hear the stroke of eight
  And not the stroke of nine;
And wish my friend as sound a sleep
  As lads' I did not know,
That shepherded the moonlit sheep
  A hundred years ago.

[1] Hanging in chains was called keeping sheep by moonlight.


On your midnight pallet lying,
  Listen, and undo the door:
Lads that waste the light in sighing
  In the dark should sigh no more;
Night should ease a lover's sorrow;
Therefore, since I go to-morrow,
  Pity me before.
In the land to which I travel,
  The far dwelling, let me say --
Once, if here the couch is gravel,
  In a kinder bed I lay,
And the breast the darnel smothers
Rested once upon another's
  When it was not clay.


When I watch the living meet,
  And the moving pageant file
Warm and breathing through the street
  Where I lodge a little while,
If the heats of hate and lust
  In the house of flesh are strong,
Let me mind the house of dust
  Where my sojourn shall be long.
In the nation that is not
  Nothing stands that stood before;
There revenges are forgot,
  And the hater hates no more;
Lovers lying two and two
  Ask not whom they sleep beside,
And the bridegroom all night through
  Never turns him to the bride.


When I was one-and-twenty
  I heard a wise man say,
`Give crowns and pounds and guineas
  But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
  But keep your fancy free.'
But I was one-and-twenty
  No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
  I heard him say again,
`The heart out of the bosom
  Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
  And sold for endless rue.'
And I am two-and-twenty
  And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.


There pass the careless people
  That call their souls their own;
Here by the road I loiter,
  How idle and alone.
Ah, past the plunge of plummet,
  In seas I cannot sound,
My heart and soul and senses,
  World without end, are drowned.
His folly has not fellow
  Beneath the blue of day
That gives to man or woman
  His heart and soul away.
There flowers no balm to sain him
  From east of earth to west
That's lost for everlasting
  The heart out of his breast.
Here by the labouring highway
  With empty hands I stroll:
Sea-deep, till doomsday morning,
  Lie lost my heart and soul.


Oh, when I was in love with you
  Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
  How well did I behave.
And now the fancy passes by
  And nothing will remain,
And miles around they'll say that I
  Am quite myself again.


The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before the echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.


In summertime on Bredon
  The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
  In steeples far and near,
  A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning
  My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
  And hear the larks so high
  About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her
  In valleys miles away:
"Come all to church, good people;
  Good people, come and pray."
  But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer
  Among the springing thyme,
"Oh, peal upon our wedding,
  And we will hear the chime,
  And come to church in time."

But when the snows at Christmas
  On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
  And stole out unbeknown
  And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,
  Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
  And so to church went she,
  And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon
  And still the steeples hum.
"Come all to church, good people,"--
  Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
  I hear you, I will come.

[2] Pronounced Breedon.


The street sounds to the soldiers' tread,
  And out we troop to see:
A single redcoat turns his head,
  He turns and looks at me.
My man, from sky to sky's so far,
  We never crossed before;
Such leagues apart the world's ends are,
  We're like to meet no more;
What thoughts at heart have you and I
  We cannot stop to tell;
But dead or living, drunk or dry,
  Soldier, I wish you well.


The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair,
  There's men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold,
The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there,
  And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old.
There's chaps from the town and the field and the till and the cart,
  And many to count are the stalwart, and many the brave,
And many the handsome of face and the handsome of heart,
  And few that will carry their looks or their truth to the grave.
I wish one could know them, I wish there were tokens to tell
  The fortunate fellows that now you can never discern;
And then one could talk with them friendly and wish them farewell
  And watch them depart on the way that they will not return.
But now you may stare as you like and there's nothing to scan;
  And brushing your elbow unguessed-at and not to be told
They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,
  The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.


Others, I am not the first,
Have willed more mischief than they durst:
If in the breathless night I too
Shiver now, 'tis nothing new.
More than I, if truth were told,
Have stood and sweated hot and cold,
And through their reins in ice and fire
Fear contended with desire.
Agued once like me were they,
But I like them shall win my way
Lastly to the bed of mould
Where there's neither heat nor cold.
But from my grave across my brow
Plays no wind of healing now,
And fire and ice within me fight
Beneath the suffocating night.


On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
  His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
  And thick on Severn snow the leaves.
'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
  When Uricon the city stood:
'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
  But then it threshed another wood.
Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
  At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
  The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.
There, like the wind through woods in riot,
  Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
  Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
  It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
  Are ashes under Uricon.


From far, from eve and morning
  And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
  Blew hither: here am I.
Now -- for a breath I tarry
  Nor yet disperse apart --
Take my hand quick and tell me,
  What have you in your heart.
Speak now, and I will answer;
  How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind's twelve quarters
  I take my endless way.


If truth in hearts that perish
  Could move the powers on high,
I think the love I bear you
  Should make you not to die.
Sure, sure, if stedfast meaning,
  If single thought could save,
The world might end to-morrow,
  You should not see the grave.
This long and sure-set liking,
  This boundless will to please,
-- Oh, you should live for ever,
   If there were help in these.
But now, since all is idle,
   To this lost heart be kind,
Ere to a town you journey
   Where friends are ill to find.


'Oh, sick I am to see you, will you never let me be?
You may be good for something but you are not good for me.
Oh, go where you are wanted, for you are not wanted here.'
And that was all the farewell when I parted from my dear.
I will go where I am wanted, to a lady born and bred
Who will dress me free for nothing in a uniform of red;
She will not be sick to see me if I only keep it clean:
I will go where I am wanted for a soldier of the Queen.
I will go where I am wanted, for the sergeant does not mind;
He may be sick to see me but he treats me very kind:
He gives me beer and breakfast and a ribbon for my cap,
And I never knew a sweetheart spend her money on a chap.
I will go where I am wanted, where there's room for one or two,
And the men are none too many for the work there is to do;
Where the standing line wears thinner and the dropping dead lie thick;
And the enemies of England they shall see me and be sick.


On the idle hill of summer,
  Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
  Drumming like a noise in dreams.
Far and near and low and louder
  On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
  Soldiers marching, all to die.
East and west on fields forgotten
  Bleach the bones of comrades slain,
Lovely lads and dead and rotten;
  None that go return again.
Far the calling bugles hollo,
  High the screaming fife replies,
Gay the files of scarlet follow:
  Woman bore me, I will rise.


White in the moon the long road lies,
  The moon stands blank above;
White in the moon the long road lies
  That leads me from my love.
Still hangs the hedge without a gust,
  Still, still the shadows stay:
My feet upon the moonlit dust
  Pursue the ceaseless way.
The world is round, so travellers tell,
  And straight though reach the track,
Trudge on, trudge on, 'twill all be well,
  The way will guide one back.
But ere the circle homeward hies
  Far, far must it remove:
White in the moon the long road lies
  That leads me from my love.


'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.


Into my heart an air that kills
  From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
  What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
  I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
  And cannot come again.


  In my own shire, if I was sad,
Homely comforters I had:
The earth, because my heart was sore,
Sorrowed for the son she bore;
And standing hills, long to remain,
Shared their short-lived comrade's pain.
And bound for the same bourn as I,
On every road I wandered by,
Trod beside me, close and dear,
The beautiful and death-struck year:
Whether in the woodland brown
I heard the beechnut rustle down,
And saw the purple crocus pale
Flower about the autumn dale;
Or littering far the fields of May
Lady-smocks a-bleaching lay,
And like a skylit water stood
The bluebells in the azured wood.
  Yonder, lightening other loads,
The seasons range the country roads,
But here in London streets I ken
No such helpmates, only men;
And these are not in plight to bear,
If they would, another's care.
They have enough as 'tis: I see
In many an eye that measures me
The mortal sickness of a mind
Too unhappy to be kind.
Undone with misery, all they can
Is to hate their fellow man;
And till they drop they needs must still
Look at you and wish you ill.


Shot? so quick, so clean an ending?
  Oh that was right, lad, that was brave:
Yours was not an ill for mending,
  'Twas best to take it to the grave.
Oh you had forethought, you could reason,
  And saw your road and where it led,
And early wise and brave in season
  Put the pistol to your head.
Oh soon, and better so than later
  After long disgrace and scorn,
You shot dead the household traitor,
  The soul that should not have been born.
Right you guessed the rising morrow
  And scorned to tread the mire you must:
Dust's your wages, son of sorrow,
  But men may come to worse than dust.
Souls undone, undoing others, --
  Long time since the tale began.
You would not live to wrong your brothers:
  Oh lad, you died as fits a man.
Now to your grave shall friend and stranger
  With ruth and some with envy come:
Undishonoured, clear of danger,
  Clean of guilt, pass hence and home.
Turn safe to rest, no dreams, no waking;
  And here, man, here's the wreath I've made:
'Tis not a gift that's worth the taking,
  But wear it and it will not fade.


  Bring, in this timeless grave to throw,
No cypress, sombre on the snow;
Snap not from the bitter yew
His leaves that live December though;
Break no rosemary, bright with rime
And sparkling to the cruel clime;
Nor plod the winter land to look
For willows in the icy brook
To cast them leafless round him: bring
No spray that ever buds in spring.
  But if the Christmas field has kept
Awns the last gleaner overstept,
Or shrivelled flax, whose flower is blue
A single season, never two;
Or if one haulm whose year is o'er
Shivers on the upland frore,
-- Oh, bring from hill and stream and plain
Whatever will not flower again,
To give him comfort: he and those
Shall bide eternal bedfellows
Where low upon the couch he lies
Whence he never shall arise.


Be still, my soul, be still; the arms you bear are brittle,
  Earth and high heaven are fixt of old and founded strong.
Think rather, -- call to thought, if now you grieve a little,
  The days when we had rest, O soul, for they were long.
Men loved unkindness then, but lightless in the quarry
  I slept and saw not; tears fell down, I did not mourn;
Sweat ran and blood sprang out and I was never sorry:
  Then it was well with me, in days ere I was born.
Now, and I muse for why and never find the reason,
  I pace the earth, and drink the air, and feel the sun.
Be still, be still, my soul; it is but for a season:
  Let us endure an hour and see injustice done.
Ay, look: high heaven and earth ail from the prime foundation;
  All thoughts to rive the heart are here, and all are vain:
Horror and scorn and hate and fear and indignation --
  Oh why did I awake?  when shall I sleep again?


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.


Far in a western brookland
  That bred me long ago
The poplars stand and tremble
  By pools I used to know.
There, in the windless night-time,
  The wanderer, marvelling why,
Halts on the bridge to hearken
  How soft the poplars sigh.
He hears: no more remembered
  In fields where I was known,
Here I lie down in London
  And turn to rest alone.
There, by the starlit fences,
  The wanderer halts and hears
My soul that lingers sighing
  About the glimmering weirs.


You smile upon your friend to-day,
  To-day his ills are over;
You hearken to the lover's say,
  And happy is the lover.
'Tis late to hearken, late to smile,
  But better late than never;
I shall have lived a little while
  Before I die for ever.


Now hollow fires burn out to black,
  And lights are guttering low:
Square your shoulders, lift your pack,
  And leave your friends and go.
Oh never fear, man, nought's to dread,
  Look not to left nor right:
In all the endless road you tread
  There's nothing but the night.


  `Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There's nothing much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.'
Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.
  Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour
The better for the embittered hour;
It will do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.
  There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that sprang to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
-- I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

From "Last Poems."


As I gird on for fighting
  My sword upon my thigh,
I think on old ill fortunes
  Of better men than I.
Think I, the round world over,
  What golden lads are low
With hurts not mine to mourn for
  And shames I shall not know.
What evil luck soever
  For me remains in store,
'Tis sure much finer fellows
  Have fared much worse before.
So here are things to think on
  That ought to make me brave,
As I strap on for fighting
  My sword that will not save.


Oh hard is the bed they have made him,
  And common the blanket and cheap;
But there he will lie as they laid him:
  Where else could you trust him to sleep?
To sleep when the bugle is crying
  And cravens have heard and are brave,
When mothers and sweethearts are sighing
  And lads are in love with the grave.
Oh dark is the chamber and lonely,
  And lights and companions depart;
But lief will he lose them and only
  Behold the desire of his heart.
And low is the roof, but it covers
  A sleeper content to repose;
And far from his friends and his lovers
  He lies with the sweetheart he chose.


The Queen she sent to look for me,
  The sergeant he did say,
`Young man, a soldier will you be
  For thirteen pence a day?'
For thirteen pence a day did I
  Take off the things I wore,
And I have marched to where I lie,
  And I shall march no more.
My mouth is dry, my shirt is wet,
  My blood runs all away,
So now I shall not die in debt
  For thirteen pence a day.
To-morrow after new young men
  The sergeant he must see,
For things will all be over then
  Between the Queen and me.
And I shall have to bate my price,
  For in the grave, they say,
Is neither knowledge nor device
  Nor thirteen pence a day.


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?


The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers
  Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away,
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers.
  Pass me the can, lad; there's an end of May.
There's one spoilt spring to scant our mortal lot,
  One season ruined of our little store.
May will be fine next year as like as not:
  Oh ay, but then we shall be twenty-four.
We for a certainty are not the first
  Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled
Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed
  Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.
It is in truth iniquity on high
  To cheat our sentenced souls of aught they crave,
And mar the merriment as you and I
  Fare on our long fool's-errand to the grave.
Iniquity it is; but pass the can.
  My lad, no pair of kings our mothers bore;
Our only portion is the estate of man:
  We want the moon, but we shall get no more.
If here to-day the cloud of thunder lours
  To-morrow it will hie on far behests;
The flesh will grieve on other bones than ours
  Soon, and the soul will mourn in other breasts.
The troubles of our proud and angry dust
  Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
  Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.


Could man be drunk for ever
  With liquor, love, or fights,
Lief should I rouse at morning
  And lief lie down at nights.
But men at whiles are sober
  And think by fits and starts,
And if they think, they fasten
  Their hands upon their hearts.


Yonder see the morning blink:
  The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
  And work, and God knows why.
Oh often have I washed and dressed
  And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
  And all's to do again.


  The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I, and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilment and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.


`What sound awakened me, I wonder,
  For now 'tis dumb.'
`Wheels on the road most like, or thunder:
  Lie down; 'twas not the drum.'
Toil at sea and two in haven
  And trouble far;
Fly, crow, away, and follow, raven,
  And all that croaks for war.
`Hark, I heard the bugle crying,
  And where am I?
My friends are up and dressed and dying,
  And I will dress and die.'
`Oh love is rare and trouble plenty
  And carrion cheap,
And daylight dear at four-and-twenty:
  Lie down again and sleep.'
`Reach me my belt and leave your prattle:
  Your hour is gone;
But my day is the day of battle,
  And that comes dawning on.
`They mow the field of man in season:
  Farewell, my fair,
And, call it truth or call it treason,
  Farewell the vows that were.'
`Ay, false heart, forsake me lightly:
  'Tis like the brave.
They find no bed to joy in rightly
  Before they find the grave.
`Their love is for their own undoing,
  And east and west
They scour about the world a-wooing
  The bullet to their breast.
`Sail away the ocean over,
  Oh sail away,
And lie there with your leaden lover
  For ever and a day.'


He stood, and heard the steeple
  Sprinkle the quarters on the morning town.
One, two, three, four, to market-place and people
  It tossed them down.
Strapped, noosed, nighing his hour,
  He stood and counted them and cursed his luck;
And then the clock collected in the tower
  Its strength, and struck.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


'Tis mute, the word they went to hear on high Dodona mountain
  When winds were in the oakenshaws and all the cauldrons tolled,
And mute's the midland navel-stone beside the singing fountain,
  And echoes list to silence now where gods told lies of old.
I took my question to the shrine that has not ceased from speaking,
  The heart within, that tells the truth and tells it twice as plain;
And from the cave of oracles I heard the priestess shrieking
  That she and I should surely die and never live again.
Oh priestess, what you cry is clear, and sound good sense I think it;
  But let the screaming echoes rest, and froth your mouth no more.
'Tis true there's better boose than brine, but he that drowns must drink it;
  And oh, my lass, the news is news that men have heard before.
The King with half the East at heel is marched from lands of morning;
  Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air,
And he that stands will die for nought, and home there's no returning.
  The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.


The half-moon westers low, my love,
  And the wind brings up the rain;
And wide apart lie we, my love,
  And seas between the twain.
I know not if it rains, my love,
  In the land where you do lie;
And oh, so sound you sleep, my love,
  You know no more than I.


Now 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.


Wake not for the world-heard thunder
  Not the chime that earthquakes toll.
Star may plot in heaven with planet,
Lightning rive the rock of granite,
Tempest tread the oakwood under:
  Fear you not for flesh nor soul.
Marching, fighting, victory past,
Stretch your limbs in peace at last.
Stir not for the soldiers drilling
  Nor the fever nothing cures:
Throb of drum and timbal's rattle
Call but man alive to battle,
And the fife with death-notes filling
  Screams for blood but not for yours.
Times enough you bled your best;
Sleep on now, and take your rest.
Sleep, my lad; the French are landed,
  London's burning, Windsor's down;
Clasp your cloak of earth about you,
We must man the ditch without you,
March unled and fight short-handed,
  Charge to fall and swim to drown.
Duty, friendship, bravery o'er,
Sleep away, lad; wake no more.


When I would muse in boyhood
  The wild green woods among,
And nurse resolves and fancies
  Because the world was young,
It was not foes to conquer,
  Nor sweethearts to be kind,
But it was friends to die for
  That I would seek and find.

I sought them and I found them,
  The sure, the straight, the brave,
The hearts I lost my own to,
  The souls I could not save.
They braced their belts around them,
  They crossed in ships the sea,
They sought and found six feet of ground,
  And there they died for me.


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.


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.


These, in the day when heaven was falling,
  The hour when Earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
  And took their wages and are dead.
Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
  They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
  And saved the sum of things for pay.


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.
Possess, 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.

From "More Poems."


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.
But 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 have not come.
I see the country far away
  Where I shall never stand;
The heart goes where no footstep may
  Into the promised land.
The realm I look upon and die
  Another man will own;
He shall attain the heaven that I
  Perish and have not known.
But I will go where they are hid
  That never were begot,
To my inheritance amid
  The nation that is not.


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 than 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.


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.


How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
  Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the 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;
Now 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.


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.


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.


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 coin for fee,
Whom, on the wharf of Lethe waiting,
  Count you to find? Not me.
The brisk fond lackey to fetch and carry,
  The true, sick-hearted slave,
Expect him not in the just city
  And free land of the grave.


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.


Shake hands, we shall never be friends, all's over;
  I only vex you the more I try.
All's wrong that ever I've done or said,
And nought to help it in this dull head:
  Shake hands, here's luck, good-bye.
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
And the soul that was born to die for you,
  And whistle and I'll be there.


Because I liked you better
  Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
  To throw the thought away.
To put the world between us
  We parted, stiff and dry;
`Good-bye,' said you, `forget me.'
  `I will, no fear', said I.
If here, where 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 naming
  The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
  Was one that kept his word.


Here 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.


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.


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.

From "Additional Poems."


When Adam walked in Eden young,
  Happy, 'tis writ, was he,
While high the fruit of knowledge hung
  Unbitten on the tree.
Happy was he the livelong day;
  I doubt 'tis written wrong:
The heart of man, for all they say,
  Was never happy long.
And now my feet are tired of rest,
  And here they will not stay,
And the soul fevers in my breast
  And aches to be away.


It is no gift I tender,
  A loan is all I can;
But do not scorn the lender;
  Man gets no more from man.
Oh, mortal man may borrow
  What mortal man can lend;
And 'twill not end to-morrow,
  Though sure enough 'twill end.
If death and time are stronger,
  A love may yet be strong;
The world will last for longer,
  But this will last for long.


He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
  He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand, and tore my heart in sunder,
  And went with half my life about my ways.


When the bells justle in the tower
  The hollow night amid,
Then on my tongue the taste is sour
  Of all I ever did.


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.


'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.


The stars have not dealt me the worst they could do:
My pleasures are plenty, my troubles are two.
But oh, my two troubles they reave me of rest,
The brains in my head and the heart in my breast.
Oh grant me the ease that is granted so free,
The birthright of multitudes, give it to me,
That relish their victuals and rest on their bed
With flint in the bosom and guts in the head.


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.


Home is the sailor, home from sea:
  Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
  The plunder of the world.
Home is the hunter from the hill:
  Fast in the boundless snare
All flesh lies taken at his will
  And every fowl of air.
'Tis evening on the moorland free,
  The starlit wave is still:
Home is the sailor from the sea,
  The hunter from the hill.