Monday 26 March 2018


Today is Housman-Frost day, the date on which both A.E. Housman (1859) and Robert Frost (1874) were born – two poets very different in their outlook but similar in their preference for simple poetic forms and (at least until Frost began to spread himself) brevity. Here are two spring poems - first Housman:

Spring Morning

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. 

This is Housman at his cheeriest, though inevitably undercut with darker notes (''tis true the best are gone', 'Half the night he longed to die'). The beauty of the spring morning just about wins out. 'Star and coronal and bell' is a lovely first line, and 'gnawn' makes a daring rhyme with 'dawn'.

And here is Robert Frost, for whom spring is, more simply, an occasion for prayer and thanksgiving:

A Prayer in Spring
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

The evocation of the darting hummingbird is particularly good: 'And off a blossom in mid air stands still' is a perfectly poised line, one that seems itself to stand still in mid air. 

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