By Essay Housman I One Twenty When

‘Farewell to barn and stack and tree, Farewell to Severn shore.

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‘I wish you strength to bring you pride, And a love to keep you clean, And I wish you luck, come Lammastide, At racing on the green.

When I Was One-and-Twenty is the first line of the untitled Poem XIII from A. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad (1896), but has often been anthologised and given musical settings under that title.

Chance and the common course of nature will not bring it to pass that the readings of a MS are right whenever they are possible and impossible whenever they are wrong: that needs divine intervention; and when one considers the history of man and the spectacle of the universe I hope that I may say without impiety that divine intervention might have been better employed elsewhere.

This enduring theme of Housman’s poetry and scholarly prose, that there is an objective world, which must be lived in despite the fact that it does not answer to human desires, may give a clue to the unity of his life’s work.

Later the more likely interpretation of the poem's inspiration as referring to Housman's unrequited love for a fellow male student at university has gained currency.

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.

She had two sons at rising day, To-night she’ll be alone.

‘And here’s a bloody hand to shake, And oh, man, here’s good-bye; We’ll sweat no more on scythe and rake, My bloody hands and I.

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