You can read this poem here.
This is one of those poems I read and simply think, ‘Yes’. The simplicity of the rhyme-scheme and the regularity of the metre feel part of the irrefutability of what the poem has to say. It seems very Housman that he’s feeling such a drive to make the most of his time at the not-very-old-really age of twenty! I started mentally re-writing stanza two to say ‘Now of my threescore years and ten/Fifty will not come again’ and then realised it was all going to go wrong at the end of life three, so abandoned that… But however premature his worry may seem, about running out of time, his point stands: that spring is a time when we may connect with the joy of renewal, the beauty of the world, and the anguish of our own fleetingness. I think Housman has it right, though. The only thing to do, in the end, is make the most of what you get. About the woodlands let us go…
‘They are not long, the days of wine and roses.’* This is, unfortunately, true. The hours of wine and rowdies, however, can feel very long indeed. Welcome to Coach A, the Quiet Zone.
I was sharing the carriage with approximately 743 On-Train Revellers—memory may have distorted this slightly—and was feeling hot-flushy, claustrophobic and overwhelmed. All the usual signs were there: a commitment to noise and Having A Good Time, standing in the aisle, heavy daytime drinking coz-we’re-on-holiday, a lot of very loud laughing (often with a (read more…)
‘The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long’ or ‘the shortness of life forbids us long hopes’ —Horace
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
Although this poem is about a great deal more than lost youth, still, the opening of stanza two is what was running round and round in my head while I was in Oxford, and when I contemplated my time there afterwards. For me, the lines chimed with a melancholy note; but I can equally see that there can be some comfort—if perhaps a coolish comfort!—in its reminder that everything passes. I love how that “everything” is so economically and powerfully evoked in the poem’s images: ‘the weeping and the laughter/ Love and desire and hate’, ‘the days of wine and roses’. However this poem hits you—and I think that can vary from moment to moment as well as from person to person—there is a plangent beauty in this brief, apparently-simple poem which makes it one to return to, whatever your current mood.
Stripping off with a bunch of other people, variously familiar to me, in the chilly, cramped vestry of some hitherto-unknown church. Dressing for Saturday Night in modest, full-length black, then perching on a chair in an unheated church hall, eating squashed sandwiches. All the ingredients of a perfectly normal weekend for me.
I’ve been singing in choirs since I was about 7 (not continuously, obviously), and this has frequently involved doing gigs in (read more…)
Call me Ishmael.
Don’t worry, though. I’m not talking harpoons or shotguns here. It’s just that I do get possessed, each spring, by a need to find and gaze upon lambs—the wobblier and boing-ier the better. The obsession comes on really strong in early February and lasts till Mayish, when wild-swimming fever takes over. So there was never any question that lamb-hunting would be a Thing.
And now it’s time! It is a bright cold day in February and the flocks are dotting the green. Well-swaddled, I (read more…)