“The Hypertext Housman”
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A Shropshire Lad (1896) is a cycle of sixty-three poems, first published in 1896. Initially the collection sold slowly, but during the Second Boer War, Housman’s nostalgic depiction of rural life and the premature death of young men resonated with English readers and the book became a bestseller.
Later, World War I further increased its popularity. Arthur Somervell and other composers were inspired by the simplicity of the poems, reminiscent of English folk song, and the most famous musical settings are by George Butterworth, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ivor Gurney and John Ireland.
Set in a half-imaginary pastoral Shropshire, “the land of lost content”, the poems explore the transience of human love and loss of youth in a simple, accessible style.
Nineteen of the poems have been prepared in a hypertext version, initially for teaching to AS level English Literature students as the text has been set for study by AQA. The critical approach used has been called “Reconstruction”. By reference to earlier drafts of the set poems, of which there are a number, the students are invited to compare previous versions with the final copy-text. As well as encouraging such comparison, there are two further aims of this critical approach: firstly, to encourage scholarly interest in textual variation, analysis and editing and secondly to explore, however speculatively, the working of the poet’s mind in the development of the poems.
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The Housman Society