Friday, December 16, 2011

English Interlude

I'm finishing up my select-an-author-from-a-hat project today, which means I'll have finally completed the Norton Anthology (Volume F). In a strange stroke, the last piece I picked out is the first story in the book, "On the Western Circuit" by Thomas Hardy. So, in order to complete my study of the 20th Century British canon, I'll be reading a story from 1891 later this afternoon.

But since it's Friday and since I plan to lightly tipple tonight, I thought I'd pass along some lines from A.E. Housman's "Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff," an encomium (and criticism) of booze. In it, he's comparing the effect of poetry to the effect of drinking and identifies proper times for both:

"[. . .] Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half-way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.


Housman also ends "The Chestnut Cast His Flambeaux" with this solid stanza:

"The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale."

Will do, Alfred Edward, sir.

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