This week, another poem, this time by the British poet A.E.Housman, who was a brilliant “redactor”– meaning the day scholarly art of creating authoritative annotated editions of classical texts. In spite of career setbacks he became an eminent professor of classics at University College London, and also Cambridge, but what made him famous was a book of poems that seemed to blow through him out of nowhere in the mid 1890s.
He didn’t consider himself a poet, yet these poems in many cases “arrived fully-formed,” he later said. The book they formed, A Shropshire Lad, celebrates a rural England that was rapidly being lost to railways and industrialization, and memorializes it in poems of great beauty, vigor and nostalgia. Many mourn the deaths of young men off in distant imperial wars. It remains one of the most loved (and highest selling) poetry books of all time..
This famous poem, not titled, just numbered, from A Shropshire Lad (1896) has interesting Dharma-like insights… Maybe we can bring to mind the word “ku” meaning “empty sky” that is used several times in the Heart Sutra. All forms may be made of empty sky, but still—we have to act. As Yamada Koun Roshi said, this world may all be a dream, but we must still work to make it a happy dream.
Please enjoy and savor it.
FROM far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither: here am I.
Now—for a breath I tarry; 5
Nor yet disperse apart—
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart.
Speak now, and I will answer; 10
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
I take my endless way.
A. E. Housman (1859–1936)
Image: Santa Fe Fall Colors, by Cherie Manifest, used here with her permission.