From A Shropshire Lad

What are some expectations created by the title, “A Shropshire Lad”? Are these all fulfilled?

Are the stanzas and rhyme schemes of the different sections the same? If not, how do they differ? What is the general effect of the stanza patterns and use of sections?

What are some features of the sounds and word choices of the sequence?

[“From Clee to heaven the beacon burns”]

What seems to be the message of this section? What holiday is being celebrated, and who does the speaker believe should be most remembered?

What seems the speaker’s response to the slogan, “God save the Queen”? What seems his attitude toward British wars in Egypt and elsewhere? 

How do the sounds and language of this section contribute to its meaning? How do you account for its nostalgic tone?

[“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now”]

Why does the speaker choose the cherry blossoms and Easter season as the setting of his poem?

What is surprising about his sentiment? How does he intend to use the interval of time left him? What is imaged by “the cherry hung with snow”?

Is the brevity of this poem an asset?

7. [“When smoke stood up from Ludlow”]

What are allegorical features of the speaker’s experience? In what mood does the farmer begin his day?

What is added to the poem by details of place, such as Teme and Ludlow?

What message is conveyed by the blackbird’s song? Why does the speaker kill the bird?

What do you make of the fact that the song now enters into his own heart? Is this a punishment?

How does the yeoman’s song differ from that of the bird? Are these differences significant? Is the song comforting or ominous?

19. To An Athlete Dying Young

What is the tone of this poem? To what extent is it intended to be ironic?

Why do you think Housman chose an athlete for the subject of this poem? What contrasts does this suggest?

What, according to the poet, were some advantages to the athlete’s early death? What symbolism is embedded in the reference to the laurel and the rose?

What image is evoked by the thought that viewers will flock to gaze on the garland of “the strengthless dead”?

How does the form of this poem reinforce its content? What is its temporal setting—i. e., is it set in the present or classical past?

21. Bredon Hill

What is added to this poem by the shortened last line in each stanza? By the poem’s setting in a specific place?

What do we know about the lovers’ lives on Bredon hill? Why the choice of Sunday morning as a time of good memories?

What is suggested by the fact that the speaker’s love refuses to attend Sunday church? What future do they plan?

How have the bells changed their meaning? Is it significant that the lover dies in the snows of Christmas?

What has changed in the speaker’s attitude toward the bells? Why does he address them directly, and in what tone? (“Oh noisy bells, be dumb”)

27. [“Is my team ploughing”]

What is the theme of this section?

What is added to the poem by the fact that it is a dialogue between dead and living? What information is withheld until the last line?

What aspects of the dead man’s life are evoked? Are these highly individualized?

At what point in the poem does the tone shift from reassuring to ominous? Why does the former friend admonish the inquiring speaker to “Be still, my lad, and sleep”?

Why is the poem couched in a tone of rural simplicity? Do you find this effective?

28. The Welsh Marches

Why were the Welsh marches chosen as the setting of this poem? What are some images which recount the violent struggles of the past?

What has been his mother’s relationship to this violence? That of his own conception? Could this possibly have been literally true? (Anglo-Welsh conflicts ended with the conquest of the native Celtic peoples in the thirteenth century)  

How does the conflict of the ancient armies continue into the present?

What is the poem’s tone? How does the use of tetrameter quatrains with an aabb pattern contribute to its effect? Its word choices?

What event alone can free the speaker? For what does he long? What is added by the shift from a declarative to a questioning voice?

What psychological interpretation might be made of this poem? Does the poem offer hope for the resolution of inward conflicts?

31. [“On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble”]

What event is described in the poem, and what meaning is given to this? What is added by the choice of specific places such as “Wenlock Edge,” “Wreckin,” and “Uricon”?

What is the poem’s theme? What does it mean to say that “The tree of man was never quiet”?

Is it comforting to think that the gale “blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone”?

What precedent does the speaker find for an end to his woes? How has the Roman who has preceded him died? (Uricon was an ancient Roman city later burnt by the Saxons) Why doesn’t he choose as a precedent, say, residents of Shrewsbury closer to his own time?

What is added to the poem by its tone of fatalism?

This poem is the subject of a well-known setting by Vaugham Williams; after listening to a recording on UTube or elsewhere, can you comment on which aspects of the poem are brought out through the music?

45. [“If it chance your eye offend you”]

To what source does the opening line refer? What is ironic about taking such a command literally?

What ironic corollary follows from the claim that one should pluck out an offending part of the body?

What is noticeable about the placement of the final words?

51. [“Loitering with a vacant eye”]

What is the significance of the fact that the speaker loiters “with a vacant eye”?

Where does the poem take place? Would the reader likely have experienced a similar moment of identification with a statue?

What experiences do the statue and viewer have in common? What ironies are inherent in this shared identification?

What message does the statue convey to the speaker? Why is it (or is it?) reassuring?
What contrast remains between speaker and statue?

What are the poem’s themes? Are they well presented? Is the use of tetrameter couplets appropriate?

62. [“`Terence, this is stupid stuff’”]

What is meant by the reference to Terence? Why might Housman have identified with this Roman playwright?

What is the effect of the poem’s colloquial tone? Its setting and allusions to ale-drinking?

What are some features of the speaker’s self-parody? Is this an accurate account of his own verse?

What defense does the poet give of the melancholy tone of his poetry? What does he advise those who wish to be cheerful to do?

What personal testimonial does he give to the limited value of escapism?

What does the poet suggest is the best method of preparing for reality? Out of what emotions has his poetry been wrought? (“Out of a stem that scored the hand”)

What is the effect of the poet’s direct address to the reader?

What is the purpose of the poem’s final allegory? Why do you think he chooses a classical story to end his apologia? Is the punch line effective?

Do the poem’s rhythms reinforce its meaning?

From Last Poems

XII [“The laws of God, the laws of man,]

To what do you think this poem is referring—that is, what are “the laws of God, the laws of man”?

What is the effect of the poem’s rhyme scheme? Its rhythms? Which words and passages seem emphasized?

Who seems to be the speaker, and who are “they”? On what grounds does he judge them? With what do they threaten him?

What garners the reader’s sympathy? (“I, a stranger and afraid / In a world I never made.”)

Does the speaker question whether he, not “they,” may be in error? (“Though both are foolish, both are strong.”) What is his final resolve? Why do you think the speaker switches to the pronoun “we”?

XVIII [“Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?]

What do you make of this poem? Who may be the “young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists”?

What surprises about the treatment of the prisoner? How do others react to his unusual hair color?

What is the poem’s metrical form? How does the bouncing tone contribute to the poem’s irony?

Is the poem’s ending effective?

It has been suggested that this poem concerns the Oscar Wilde trials; if so, how does this affect your interpretation?

“Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”

What is the point of stressing that the epitaph is for an “army of mercenaries”? Are there paradoxical features to the title?

What type of diction is used for the war which these have fought? For the motives of the mercenaries?

Were these fallen soldiers heroes? Does the speaker believe that the cause for which they died was significant?

Is the poem’s brevity appropriate? Its stanza form and diction?

Why do you think Housman wrote a poem on this subject?