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.
V But oh, good Lord, the verse you make, 5
V It 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. 10 C
Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme Q
Your friends to death before their time
V Moping melancholy mad:
V Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.”
V Why, if ’tis dancing you would be, 15
V There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
V Say, for what were hop-yards meant, C
V Or why was Burton built on Trent? C
Oh many a peer of England brews C
V Livelier liquor than the Muse, 20
And malt does more than Milton can C
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 pot 25
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
V The 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,
V And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I’ve lain, 35
V 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, 40
V And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.
V Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
V And while the sun and moon endure 45
V Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure, Q
V I’d face it as a wise man would,
V And 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
V Out of a stem that scored the hand
V I wrung it in a weary land.
V But take it: if the smack is sour
V The better for the embittered hour;
V It should do good to heart and head 55
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:
V There, when kings will sit to feast, 60
They get their fill before they think
V With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
V From the many-venomed earth; Q
V First a little, thence to more, 65
V He sampled all her killing store; Q
V And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
V Sate the king when healths went round.
V They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat; 70
V They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
V Them 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 Word Glossary
2 victuals Food or other provisions (often used humorously)
3 amiss Wrong
32 quart Two pints
50 brisk Sharp to the taste
53 smack Taste
68 Sate Sat,
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
1 Terence: Terence Hearsay, the supposed narrator of the poems
7 These lines mimic a traditional song
10 The phrase “the tune the (old) cow died of” is idiomatically applied to unmusical or tedious pieces of music
17 hops: used to flavour beer and give the sour taste
18 Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, is the chief brewing centre of Britain
19 many a peer: including Michael Arthur Bass, baron (1886) and Edward Cecil Guiness, baron (1891)
21 malt: used in the brewing process
22 cf Milton, Paradise Lost, i.26: “And justify the ways of God to men”
76 Mithridates, king of Pontus 120 to 63BC
Meter Rhyming couplets of eight syllables (iambic quatrameter), with occasional irregular lines: common form for narrative poetry.


Top ▲ Variations

Line Text Textual variation
1 D “Terence] ^ Oh, Terence
5 D the pains you poets take But meant’twas not, an no mistake
6 D It gives a chap] To give a chap To give your friends
13 D To drive one melancholy mad; And drive them melancholy mad
13 Moping] Or drive them
14 D Come pipe] Do pipe Pipe
15 D Why,] Oh ^
16 D <You need not wait for> \ There’s brisker pipes than / poetry
17 D Say] \ Lad / [ My man]
hop-yards] hop <yards> \ -poles /
18 D Or] And
20 D Livelier] A livelier
28 D mischief] \ misery /
34 D sterling] <decent>
36 D Happy] And liked it
41 D And <there was> nothing \ more was / left to do
43 D Therefore] \ Well then /
world] \ earth /
45+ D Additional line: And heaven and earth, as all can see
46 Luck’s] Good’s
trouble’s] ill is
47 D face] take
48 D And train] Dress
51 Dd1 And from a stalk that <scratched> \ scored / the hand
51 Dd2 stem] stalk
52+ D Additional line: How well his vaccination took,
53 Dd1 If you \ should / come where I have been Against you come where I have been
53 Dd2 smack] taste
53+ or 56+ D Additional line: <Against> \ <?When> / you stand where I have stood
54 Dd1 <So> \ I think / these <that> \ bits of [?vine] / I glean
54 Dd2 The] <I think that in>
55 Dd1 <When your soul is in my soul’s stead>
55 Dd2 It should do good to] This <will> \ may / be good for
55 Dd3 May <be> \ do some / good <for> \ to /
60 D There, \ <I hear> / \ <That feared> / when kings will <sit to> sit to feast
62 D \ <I hear> With poison in their meat and drink /
64 D venomed] poisoned
65 D thence] so
66 D He tasted all <that Asia bore> <she ever bore> \ <the> \ her / killing store /
67 D And easy, smiling] <Easy>, <smiling>
68 D healths] <wine>
69 D They] <His foes>
71 D poured] <put>
74 D their] <the>


Top ▲ Questions

Line Question
11 Put the complaint made against Terence and his poetry into your own words.
46 Compare 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?

48 What is the justification for the poetry that is offered in the poem?
64 Why do you think the poet preferred “venomed” to “poisoned“?
66 How does the experience of Mithridates link to poetry?