Oscar in his third and final act was perhaps on the surface a different sort of animal; withdrawn and solemn, altogether lacking in the choice witticisms that made his name. I like to think that nothing had changed – here is the honesty and compassion that I see in his essays and his novel, just with the artifice relentlessly stripped away, and infused with an enforced humility in the face of the forces of fate. For all that, the resignation is still shocking in its cold fury, the numbing repetition of the simple meter mirroring the tramp of prisoners around the yard, the descriptions of the execution almost unbearably vivid. I’m not really a poetry person (hopefully with this project that can change) but this gets me *there* more than almost any other text.
The entire text is here and (if you are in the mood for something grim and depressing) I urge you to read it:
And this is the best reading I can find of it on youtube:
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.
Raised in Worcestershire and finding myself eventually settled in Cambridge, I do share some geographical space with the ghost of A. E. Housman, even if I otherwise find his morbid nostalgia a bit too much to take as seriously as perhaps it needs.
Still, reading A Shropshire Lad gives you something in common with the generation who fought the First World War, when, naturally, morbidity and nostalgia must have been very important forces indeed.
“I was born in Worcestershire, not Shropshire, where I have never spent much time. I had a sentimental feeling for Shropshire because its hills were on our Western horizon.” – A.E. Housman, from private correspondence
A Shropshire Lad
A Shropshire Lad (Full text at Project Gutenberg)
A Shropshire Lad (Free audio at Librivox)