Last Poems

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Last Poems (1922) is the second and last of the two volumes of poems A. E. Housman published during his lifetime - the first, and better-known, being A Shropshire Lad (1896). Housman was an emotionally withdrawn man whose closest friend Moses Jackson had been his roommate when he was at Oxford in 1877-1882. In the 1920s, when Jackson was dying in Canada, Housman selected forty-one previously unpublished poems into a volume entitled Last Poems, for him to read. The introduction to the volume explains his rationale:

I publish these poems, few though they are, because it is not likely that I shall ever be impelled to write much more. I can no longer expect to be revisited by the continuous excitement under which in the early months of 1895 I wrote the greater part of my first book, nor indeed could I well sustain it if it came; and it is best that what I have written should be printed while I am here to see it through the press and control its spelling and punctuation. About a quarter of this matter belongs to the April of the present year, but most of it to dates between 1895 and 1910.

September 1922.

Among these poems, Number XXXVII, EPITAPH ON AN ARMY OF MERCENARIES is perhaps the best-known:

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.
Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

The 41 poems in this volume are listed below. Where a poem is untitled, the first line is given in italics:

I THE WEST
II (As I gird on for fighting)
III (Her strong enchantments failing)
IV ILLIC JACET
V GRENADIER
VI LANCER
VII (In valleys green and still)
VIII (Soldier from the wars returning)
IX (The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers)
X (Could man be drunk for ever)
XI (Yonder see the morning blink)
XII ( The laws of God, the laws of man)
XIII THE DESERTER
XIV THE CULPRIT
XV EIGHT O’CLOCK
XVI SPRING MORNING
XVII ASTRONOMY
XVIII (The rain, it streams on stone and hillock)
XIX (In midnights of November)
XX (The night is freezing fast)
XXI (The fairies break their dances)
XXII (The sloe was lost in flower)
XXIII (In the morning, in the morning)
XXIV EPITHALAMIUM
XXV THE ORACLES
XXVI (The half-moon westers low, my love)
XXVII (The sigh that heaves the grasses)
XXVIII (Now dreary dawns the eastern light)
XXIX (Wake not for the world-heard thunder)
XXX SINNER’S RUE
XXXI HELL’S GATE
XXXII (When I would muse in boyhood)
XXXIII (When the eye of day is shut)
XXXIV THE FIRST OF MAY
XXXV (When first my way to fair I took)
XXXVI REVOLUTION
XXXVII EPITAPH ON AN ARMY OF MERCENARIES
XXXVIII (Oh stay at home, my lad, and plough)
XXXIX (When summer’s end is nighing)
XL (Tell me not here, it needs not saying)
XLI FANCY’S KNELL

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