In 1896, A.E. Housman (1859-1936) published a poetry collection that might have seemed an unlikely candidate for one of the most popular books of poetry of all time. And yet it was, and is. Pocket editions of A Shropshire Lad were carried into the trenches by British soldiers in World War I. Countless editions were printed from 1896 to well after Housman’s death, and the book is still published today. It was widely read not only in England but also Canada, Australia, the United States, and many other countries.
It is not about war, and yet to speaks to the experience of war. It is not about the Industrial Revolution, and yet it looks backward to a time and a place idealized because of what the Industrial Revolution wrought. Critics generally didn’t like it (and haven’t liked it since), but the reading public loved it.
Author Peter Parker explains why, in the recently published Housman Country: Into the Heart of England. More than another other book of poetry, more than any other novel, A Shropshire Lad is about England, what it meant, what’s been lost, and what’s endured. It is nostalgic, but it is nostalgia with a bite, what Parker calls “true nostalgia,” the past you can recognize but never regain.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Painting: From the Severn Bridge at Bridgenorth by Henry Parker (1858-1930).