Housman Society Logo

What's new


Further information about the Society, books and merchandise, and events, contact:

Max Hunt,
Abberley Cottage,
7 Dowles Road,
Bewdley, DY12 2EJ

info [at] housman-society [dot] co [dot] uk

Overseas buyers should send £ sterling drafts or international money orders payable to The Housman Society. Otherwise add £5.00 to the total before calculating non-£ sterling equivalent. Please add £1.00 for postage in UK, £3.00 overseas.

Registered users of PayPal can use the "Send Money" facility to make payments to maxhunt468 [at] gmail [dot] com in Sterling.

Mon 28th
May 2018
The Housman Society
Appreciating the Life and Works of Alfred Edward Housman

Terence, this is stupid stuff

A Shropshire Lad

V"Terence, this is stupid stuff:C
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
VBut oh, good Lord, the verse you make,5
VIt gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;C
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.10C
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhymeQ
Your friends to death before their time
VMoping melancholy mad:
VCome, pipe a tune to dance to, lad."
VWhy, if 'tis dancing you would be,15
VThere's brisker pipes than poetry.
VSay, for what were hop-yards meant,C
VOr why was Burton built on Trent?C
Oh many a peer of England brewsC
VLivelier liquor than the Muse,20
And malt does more than Milton canC
To justify God's ways to man.C
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot25
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
VThe mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,30
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
VAnd I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,35
VHappy 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,40
VAnd nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.
VTherefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
VAnd while the sun and moon endure45
VLuck's a chance, but trouble's sure,Q
VI'd face it as a wise man would,
VAnd train for ill and not for good.Q
'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:50
VOut of a stem that scored the hand
VI wrung it in a weary land.
VBut take it: if the smack is sour
VThe better for the embittered hour;
VIt should do good to heart and head55
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.
There was a king reigned in the East:
VThere, when kings will sit to feast,60
They get their fill before they think
VWith poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
VFrom the many-venomed earth;Q
VFirst a little, thence to more,65
VHe sampled all her killing store;Q
VAnd easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
VSate the king when healths went round.
VThey put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;70
VThey poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
VThem it was their poison hurt.
- I tell the tale that I heard told.75
Mithridates, he died old.C
Key: V: Textual Variation. C: Commentary. Q: Question. Glossary

ASL LXII "Terence, this is stupid stuff"

Top ▲ Glossary
Line  WordGlossary
2victualsFood or other provisions (often used humorously)
32quartTwo pints
50briskSharp to the taste
But consider: the transitive verb: sate
1. To satisfy completely somebody's hunger or some other desire
2. To provide somebody with more than enough, to the point of exhaustion or disgust

Top ▲ Commentary
Line Commentary
Date: Feb 1893 - Aug 1894 (fragments), Sept/Oct 1895
1Terence: Terence Hearsay, the supposed narrator of the poems
7These lines mimic a traditional song
10The phrase "the tune the (old) cow died of" is idiomatically applied to unmusical or tedious pieces of music
17hops: used to flavour beer and give the sour taste
18Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, is the chief brewing centre of Britain
19many a peer: including Michael Arthur Bass, baron (1886) and Edward Cecil Guiness, baron (1891)
21malt: used in the brewing process
22cf Milton, Paradise Lost, i.26: "And justify the ways of God to men"
76Mithridates, king of Pontus 120 to 63BC
MeterRhyming couplets of eight syllables (iambic quatrameter), with occasional irregular lines: common form for narrative poetry.

Top ▲ Variations
Line Text Textual variation
1D“Terence] ^ Oh, Terence
5Dthe pains you poets take But meant’twas not, an no mistake
6DIt gives a chap] To give a chap To give your friends
13DTo drive one melancholy mad; And drive them melancholy mad
13Moping] Or drive them
14DCome pipe] Do pipe Pipe
15DWhy,] Oh ^
16D<You need not wait for> \ There’s brisker pipes than / poetry
17DSay] \ Lad / [ My man]
hop-yards] hop <yards> \ -poles /
18DOr] And
20DLivelier] A livelier
28Dmischief] \ misery /
34Dsterling] <decent>
36DHappy] And liked it
41DAnd <there was> nothing \ more was / left to do
43DTherefore] \ Well then /
world] \ earth /
45+DAdditional line: And heaven and earth, as all can see
46Luck’s] Good’s
trouble’s] ill is
47Dface] take
48DAnd train] Dress
51Dd1And from a stalk that <scratched> \ scored / the hand
51Dd2stem] stalk
52+DAdditional line: How well his vaccination took,
53Dd1If you \ should / come where I have been Against you come where I have been
53Dd2smack] taste
53+ or 56+DAdditional line: <Against> \ <?When> / you stand where I have stood
54Dd1<So> \ I think / these <that> \ bits of [?vine] / I glean
54Dd2The] <I think that in>
55Dd1<When your soul is in my soul’s stead>
55Dd2It should do good to] This <will> \ may / be good for
55Dd3May <be> \ do some / good <for> \ to /
60DThere, \ <I hear> / \ <That feared> / when kings will <sit to> sit to feast
62D \ <I hear> With poison in their meat and drink /
64Dvenomed] poisoned
65Dthence] so
66DHe tasted all <that Asia bore> <she ever bore> \ <the> \ her / killing store /
67DAnd easy, smiling] <Easy>, <smiling>
68Dhealths] <wine>
69DThey] <His foes>
71Dpoured] <put>
74Dtheir] <the>

Top ▲ Questions
Line Question
11Put the complaint made against Terence and his poetry into your own words.
46Compare the draft:
Good's a chance but ill is sure
with the final version:
Luck's a chance but trouble's sure
What are the merits of each?
48What is the justification for the poetry that is offered in the poem?
64Why do you think the poet preferred "venomed" to "poisoned"?
66How does the experience of Mithridates link to poetry?