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October 3, 2016


It nods and curtseys and recovers
When the wind blows above,
The nettle on the graves of lovers
That hanged themselves for love.

The nettle nods, the wind blows over,
The man he does not move,
The lover of the grave, the lover
That hanged himself for love.

A.E. Houseman, 1896

COMMENTARY: Houseman’s lifework of poetry amounts to a slim volume, not much more than 100 pages, with almost all of the poems written in cross-rhymed ballad stanzas. Nonetheless,A Shropshire Lad is probably one of the most important books in the 19th century: maximal emotion in minimal packaging. The simple nursery-rhyme-like stanzas, convey with precision and conciseness the turbulent dramas of youth, love, and time. This poem, while rarely anthologized, is among his most memorable and was much beloved by the American poet Randall Jarrell. The contrast between the windy motion of the tree and the stillness of the dead man parallels the contrast between the inner tempest of a suicidal lover and the simple, graveyard scene that memorializes it.

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