These are my settings of verses from ‘A Shropshire Lad’, by A.E. Housman. (There’s a lot more of my music on my modestly-entitled blog site DAVID HARLEY’S SONGS, but just a few Shropshire related music links in this blog.)
Housman can’t really be described as a Shropshire lad himself: he was born near Bromsgrove in 1859, and died in Cambridge in 1936, and never lived here. However, his ashes are buried near St. Lawrence’s church, Ludlow, five minutes walk from where I live at the time of writing.
Although I lived for the first 19 years of my life in Shrewsbury, none of these settings was composed in Shropshire either. I was living in Berkshire at that time, though the setting to Bredon Hill was composed while I was visiting my parents in Manchester, I think.)
These MP3s are all first-take demo versions, not studio quality. I’ll maybe come back to them properly when the size of my back-catalogue looks a little less daunting. Some day, I might even set some more of Housman’s verse. While much of his work has a somewhat depressive nature that’s often been parodied (there are a couple of good examples quoted here), many of his verse cry out to be sung.
I wouldn’t want to discourage you from reading or even buying the whole cycle, though. The whole of ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is viewable from bartleby.com. There are countless hard-copy volumes of Housman’s verse, of course, but my favourite is the 2009 edition published by Merlin Unwin with local photographs by Gareth B. Thomas (and a handful from the Shropshire Regimental Museum), an introduction by Prof. Christopher Ricks, and a brief biography of Housman by Dr. David Lloyd, a well-known name in Ludlow historical circles.
And Martin Hardcastle has a page that seems to include all Housman’s ‘serious poetry’, as well as a few links to other Housman resources.
A Shropshire Lad XXI (Bredon Hill MP3): Sometimes called In Summertime On Bredon. Bredon Hill is actually in Worcestershire, and pronounced Breedon.
In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.
Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.
The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
‘Come all to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray.’
But here my love would stay.
And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
‘Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.’
But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.
They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.
The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum.
‘Come all to church, good people,’—
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.
A Shropshire Lad XLVII (The Carpenter’s Son MP3). Demo is unaccompanied: I’ll get around to the version with guitar Real Soon Now. Sometimes referenced as ‘Here the hangman stops his cart’.
Here the hangman stops his cart
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.
‘Oh, at home had I but stayed
‘Prenticed to my father’s trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.
‘Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I but left ill alone.
‘Now, you see, they hang me high,
And the people passing by
Stop to shake their fists and curse;
So ’tis come from ill to worse.
‘Here hang I, and right and left
Two poor fellows hang for theft:
All the same ’s the luck we prove,
Though the midmost hangs for love.
‘Comrades all, that stand and gaze,
Walk henceforth in other ways;
See my neck and save your own:
Comrades all, leave ill alone.
‘Make some day a decent end,
Shrewder fellows than your friend.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.’
A Shropshire Lad XVIII (Oh when I was in love with you MP3): And a rough demo for the version of XVIII with guitar. I’ve always thought of it in an orchestrated version, and I may get around to recording that eventually. Using a keyboard, not an orchestra. Strangely enough, the same tune fits just as well for A Shropshire Lad XIII (When I was one-and-twenty).
Oh, when I was in love with you
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.
And now the fancy passes by
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they’ll say that I
Am quite myself again.
A Shropshire Lad VIII (which I call Farewell to Severn Shore for want of a catchier title – this is a MP3 demo version). Sometimes referred to as ‘Farewell to barn and stack and tree’, which seems a bit ponderous to me as a title.
‘FAREWELL to barn and stack and tree,
Farewell to Severn shore.
Terence, look your last at me,
For I come home no more.
‘The sun burns on the half-mown hill,
By now the blood is dried;
And Maurice amongst the hay lies still
And my knife is in his side.
‘My mother thinks us long away;
’Tis time the field were mown.
She had two sons at rising day,
To-night she ’ll be alone.
‘And here ’s a bloody hand to shake,
And oh, man, here ’s good-bye;
We ’ll sweat no more on scythe and rake,
My bloody hands and I.
‘I wish you strength to bring you pride,
And a love to keep you clean,
And I wish you luck, come Lammastide,
At racing on the green.
‘Long for me the rick will wait,
And long will wait the fold,
And long will stand the empty plate,
And dinner will be cold.’
Other Housman settings have been composed by real composers like:
- George Butterworth
- Ivor Gurney
- John Ireland
- Ernest John Moeran
- Arthur Somervell
- Ralph Vaughan Williams
Oddly enough, I’m not aware of any other folkies who’ve set any of these, but it’s unlikely that I’m the only one.
The photograph was taken looking West from the Wrekin.