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Reveille -- A E Housman

       
(Poem #973) Reveille
 Wake: the silver dusk returning
     Up the beach of darkness brims,
 And the ship of sunrise burning
     Strands upon the eastern rims.

 Wake: the vaulted shadow shatters,
     Trampled to the floor it spanned,
 And the tent of night in tatters
     Straws the sky-pavilioned land.

 Up, lad, up, 'tis late for lying:
     Hear the drums of morning play;
 Hark, the empty highways crying
     "Who'll beyond the hills away?"

 Towns and countries woo together,
     Forelands beacon, belfries call;
 Never lad that trod on leather
     Lived to feast his heart with all.

 Up, lad: thews that lie and cumber
     Sunlit pallets never thrive;
 Morns abed and daylight slumber
     Were not meant for man alive.

 Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
     Breath's a ware that will not keep.
 Up, lad: when the journey's over
     There'll be time enough to sleep.
-- A E Housman
Note: Reveille: A morning signal given to soldiers, usually by beat of drum
      or by bugle, to waken them and notify that it is time to rise.

 The usual military pronunciation is rive.li; in the U.S. service reveli --OED

Today's poem is one of those wonderful blendings of sound and sense that,
above all else, exemplify the sheer pleasure of poetry. Like the reveille
itself, the lines are stirring, thrilling through the listener's[1] veins
with their call to action and their images of the "empty highways crying".

[1] not 'reader', for this is surely a poem to be read aloud

Which brings me to the other thing I like about the poem - its wonderful
"open road" imagery.

   Towns and countries woo together,
   Forelands beacon, belfries call;
   Never lad that trod on leather
   Lived to feast his heart with all.

captures the spirit of wanderlust as well as anything Masefield or Stevenson
wrote. Again, although there is no explicit military imagery in the poem,
the title (and the odd phrase) give it a definite martial undertone, so that
even in isolation it seems to bespeak the thrill and excitement of
soldiering. And, of course, viewed in the larger context of "A Shropshire
Lad" the impression crystallises and is made explicit, but it is nice to see
how well the subtext comes through unaided.

Another nice touch is the deliberately 'poetic' imagery in the first two
verses giving way to the more 'prosaic' - or, at any rate, less
metaphorical - language of the later verses. The first verse, in particular,
is very reminiscent of Fitzgerald's

  Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
  Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
  And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
  The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.

a resemblance that is very likely intended.

Links:

  To fully appreciate "A Shropshire Lad", it really needs to be read in
  its entirety: [broken link] http://geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/housm02.html

  Housman poems on Minstrels:
    Poem #33, "White in the Moon the Long Road Lies" [ASL XXXVI]
    Poem #86, "When I Was One-and-Twenty" [ASL XIII]
    Poem #377, "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now" [ASL II]
    Poem #439, "Look not in my eyes, for fear" [ASL XV]
    Poem #588, "Terence, this is stupid stuff" [ASL LXII]
    Poem #539, "Yonder see the morning blink" [Last Poems XI]
    Poem #703, "On Wenlock Edge The Wood's In Trouble" [ASL XXXI]

  Biography:
    Poem #33

  A nice Housman page:
    http://www.upei.ca/~english/202/modern/housman.html

-martin

57 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sitaram Iyer said...

> Towns and countries woo together,
> Forelands beacon, belfries call;
> Never lad that trod on leather
> Lived to feast his heart with all.
>
> Up, lad: thews that lie and cumber
> Sunlit pallets never thrive;
> Morns abed and daylight slumber
> Were not meant for man alive.

Wow, what a poem to read first thing in the (late) morning! It was when I
got to the above two stanzas that a furious sense of activity and scale
shook itself into me; further rereads heartily reinforced that. Ah, the
choice of words, of rhymes, of syllables, meant to hit hard.

> Today's poem is one of those wonderful blendings of sound and sense that,
> above all else, exemplify the sheer pleasure of poetry. Like the reveille
> itself, the lines are stirring, thrilling through the listener's[1] veins
> with their call to action and their images of the "empty highways crying".

A beautiful description as usual, only, with due respect, I was hoping for
that passionate and energetic response that this poem deserves; to me, this
description painfully contrasted in its level of inspiration over the
adrenalin surge from the poem.

Sitaram

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