Wednesday 26 March 2014

Frost-Housman Day

On this blog, the 26th of March is Frost-Housman day - the day on which both Robert Frost (1874) and A.E. Housman (1859) were born. Last year I posted Frost's Spring Pools and Housman's Loveliest of Trees. This year's pair of poems both pay tribute to other poets.
 In Robert Frost's To E.T, he honours his brother in verse ('Edward Thomas was the only brother I had'), a man as vital to his own flowering as a poet as he was to Thomas's, and a friend with whom he had once been so close that Thomas seriously considered throwing in his lot with him and emigrating with his family to New Hampshire. But instead he went to war...

I SLUMBERED with your poems on my breast
Spread open as I dropped them half read through
Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb
To see, if, in a dream they brought of you,
I might not have the chance I missed in life      
Through some delay, and call you to your face
First soldier, and then poet, and then both,
Who died a soldier-poet of your race.
I meant, you meant, that nothing should remain
Unsaid between us, brother, and this remained—       
And one thing more that was not then to say:
The Victory for what it lost and gained.
You went to meet the shell’s embrace of fire
On Vimy Ridge; and when you fell that day
The war seemed over more for you than me,      
But now for me than you—the other way.
How over, though, for even me who knew
The foe thrust back unsafe beyond the Rhine,
If I was not to speak of it to you
And see you pleased once more with words of mine?


And here is A.E. Housman, taking his cue from Robert Louis Stevenson's famous Requiem, fashioning an austerely beautiful lyric...


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.

This was not the only poem to spin off from Stevenson' Requiem; Philip Larkin took the line 'This be the verse' as the title of his most notorious work.  

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