This is a review of the Dover Thrift edition. I have given this edition 3 stars because, although I love the poems, I wish I had bought a better edition with a proper introduction and good quality binding. On the poems: You will either love them or hate them; personally I love tham but I can see why others wouldn't. Housman was a brilliant classical scholar, but for his "concept album" of verse, he chose the swinging rythyms and simple rhymes of folk songs and ballads, using them with a deceptive skill to create an extraordinary mood, elegaic, nostalgic and ferociously romantic. Despite his attempt to create an appearance of naive innocence, this book is the product of an exceptionally sophisticated mind.
Housman suffered a lifelong tragedy of unrequited love for his room-mate at college; and in his tales of suntanned country lads coming to bad ends we can see the doom-laden view of love, life and the world which the social circumstances of his time forced him into - also that there is a level of false consciousness here which we see later in E. M. Forster. Many poets of the time reverted, after the elaborations of Victorian language, to a deliberate folky simplification. To modern ears this is both seductive and, at another level, slightly silly. No doubt at the time it was fresh and daring. It means Housman's couplets stick in the mind, and are often quoted. What the poet didn't know when he wrote that the real tradegy and doom of the First World War hung over his golden lads, just a few years in the future.
On the Dover Thrift edition: This is a budget edition and it really shows. Cheap fuzzy paper, not especially clear print; no editorial notes. If you love the poems look for one of the very nice vintage editions. Students will want something with some notes.
This collection of 60 odd poems is the finest I've ever read. They deal with a world that has long since gone (possibly even at the time they were written), and yet avoid sentimentality and rose tinted nostalgia. Country people live hard lives where premature death is ever present, they move to London in search of work or join the army and die on the other side of the world. This is what makes these poems special, the fact that Housman gives you the honest truth. He has the ability to present the world as it is, and can write in a style that is clear and accessible and at the same time incredibly beautiful. If you only read one book of poetry in your life, this is the one.
Originally this was privately published as no publisher seemed interested. It also sold quite slowly on its first appearance. As people were dying in the Second Boer War though this cycle of poems became more resonant with people.
Taking in in general a quiet pastoral life and how youth so fleetingly passes, especially with war and death, there is still a lot here that is relevant in today's world, thus ensuring that this book has gained more and more in popularity over the years. The only thing that this edition could perhaps have gained by, was if it had an active table of contents.
I have found the poems of my Father - the misquoted ones - incomplete always - jumbled and retreating in my memory until now. Lines of sadness - of unfulfilled lives - and loves mostly never realised as the subjects leave the rural idyll of Shropshire - brilliant and simple poetry but sad. The Dover Thrift edition is unabridged and has a usefull index to first lines. A few notes on some of the local references are invaluable in this gem. Superb value and quality.
Samuel West is a fine reader on the Naxos Audiobook compact disc edition of the complete A E Housman "A Shropshire Lad" poems. He is a highly distinguished actor who offers spoken versions of each verse with an appropriate amount of dramatisation without ever going too far in this regard - too much actorly emphasis would make repeated listening to the disc wearisome - and Sam West avoids making that mistake.
However where I am critical of this compact disc is in relation to Samuel West reading the verse using a light "rustic" accent. Now it's not Joe Grundy, don't get me wrong, but I feel sure that the conception behind these poems involves the voice of the narrator being at some remove from the apparent subject matter of country lads betrayed in love and the precariousness of life as a soldier or yeoman. Indeed while the verse sometimes sounds like folksong it is not folksong. On the contrary Housman is adopting a disguise in order to be able to express his deepest emotions about love and the precariousness of life. The time in which he lived would not have allowed him to be open about these very personal feelings - or at least he felt that was the case.
Likewise, Sam West reads out the number of each poem at its start. The director, David Timson, presumably instructed him to do this but it's a another mistake, and this time a bad one because it makes an otherwise fine spoken account sound like a catalogue. Perhaps a new edition could edit out the numbers. It would help enormously.
I know it's a cliche, but five stars really does not do this book justice. Not many people know the trouble AEH went to in order to publish this book, but all I can say is that I, along with countless others, am glad he took that trouble. Some of Housman's finest poetry is in here (although his best for me are in More Poems). But after you've read March, or The True Lover, or 'White in the moon the long road lies', you'll want to discover the rest of this remarkable man's work, a man whose troubled and luckless life caused him to produce some of the finest poems in the English language. This book is also great value..
Samuel West is a fine actor, but his decision to read 'A Shropshire Lad' in what one assumes is intended as a Shropshire accent is sadly misguided. (For the real thing, listen to Fred Jordan's A Shropshire Lad - nothing to do with Housman, but folksongs performed by a farm labourer who was born in Ludlow and spent his whole life in the county.) It would perhaps be permissible to use a Shropshire accent to read those of Housman's poems in which rural characters actually speak - for example, XXVII 'Is my team ploughing?'- but surely not elsewhere? Many of the poems are not written in the voice of a Shropshire Lad but are written ABOUT him by someone more like Housman himself (a highly-educated middle-class Classics don). What's more, West uses the same accent for 'Bredon Hill' (XXI), which is set not in Shropshire but in Worcestershire. The overall result is that this recording hovers perilously close to an episode of 'The Archers'. Compare these readings with those of Alan Bates on the Hyperion recording A Shropshire Lad. Bates's voice may seem old fashioned, but it does at least avoid 'Mummerset'.
I come from Shropshire, so how could I not love the poetry which so evokes the magic of the countryside. This edition has the most wonderful spontaneous watercolour illustrations too. Recommend you grab a copy whenever one becomes available!