“A Shropshire Lad”

The other day I cleaned, decluttered, and rearranged the bookcase I have in my bedroom.  It didn’t actually have any books on it besides a stray copy of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, instead containing a repository of notebooks, journals, large quantities of notecards, some magazines, an old printer, a broken scanner that has not worked for six years and I’ve moved across the country, and miscellaneous office supplies.  I use the word ‘contained’ loosely.

The other day, Rachel at Small Notebook suggested getting rid of one large thing to clear the clutter.  I don’t have very many large things weighing on me, but that printer (and scanner) had been bothering me, so I gritted my teeth and decided to get rid of it.  (I had been feeling guilty, believing earnestly that if only I — or someone — knew how to fix it, it would be just fine.  But I’d already replaced it — last May — as I really needed to have a working printer, so it was just sitting there . . .) I had a car on Monday, so I took the printer and the scanner to the electronics recycling place, and took the opportunity to clean up and rearrange the bookcase to make it part of a pleasant bedroom.

Removing the printer and actually containing the miscellany meant I had a whole shelf free for books.  I decided to move some poetry books there from the living room, the ones containing collections of short poems, on the theory that I would actually read them before bed or in the bathroom if they were present to my eye.  Oddly enough, so far this has worked.  I’ve read T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.

I have to say A Shropshire Lad was not at all what I was expecting.  My acquaintance with Housman’s poetry is limited, though I have read a few of his writings on classical textual criticism (he famously stated that one needed to think, not have a pumpkin on one’s shoulders).  I was surprised that “Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now” was in the book, mostly because I hadn’t registered it was by Housman when I’d read it before.  Otherwise, I was reading through the collection wondering when I would get to the poem that helps Lord Peter Whimsy solve the mystery in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong Poison.

I found that poem eventually, the second-to-last (“Mithridates, He Died Old”).  In between the cherry-tree poem and that were a series of poems that I would be slightly concerned to have a friend write, given their focus on death, the preference of suicide and dying young, and doom-and-gloom love affairs.  Perhaps these are things I shall have to read over again to fully appreciate; most poetry is; but to begin with I am rather disturbed than uplifted by the poetry.  But I am glad to have found where the cherry-tree poem comes from, and to have solved the minor mystery of Strong Poison for myself.


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