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A. E. Housman's "The Merry Guide"

Updated on October 8, 2017
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Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

A. E. Housman



Many of the poems in A. E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad involve imaginary scenes and situations; for example, in " Is my team ploughing?," the speaker is a farmer who has died, and he inquires about all the things he left behind.

Many other poems look back on the speaker's youth when he roamed the countryside around Shropshire.

In "The Merry Guide," the speaker combines the imaginary and the nostalgia of looking back on his youth as he dramatizes a fanciful walk he experienced with an imaginary friend.

Reading of Housman's "The Merry Guide"

First Quatrain: "Once in the wind of morning"

The speaker introduces the world of this poem, describing it as "the thymy wold" and the "world-wide air was azure / And all the brooks ran gold."

The reader smells the world and it smells spicy like "thyme." The air is fresh to breathe, and the reader can feel that air and visualize the golden water flowing through the streams.

Second-Fifth Quatrains: "There through the dews beside me"

In the second quatrain, the speaker introduces an imaginary walking partner: a young boy wearing a "feather cap" with a "golden rod."

The young fellow is pleasant and suited to the morning: he is friendly and laughs and gazes into the speaker's eyes; he smiles, but he never speaks, even after the speaker asks him where he came from and where he is going.

The speaker playfully allows the youth to lead him on his walk. It is at the point that the reader realizes the youth is the speaker himself when he was younger. The speaker remembers another day that seemed so perfect for a hike back when he was a youth.

Thus, he dramatizes his memory of himself as a youth taking this walk, calling his vibrant memory-ghost, "my happy guide."

Sixth-Tenth Quatrains: "Across the glittering pastures"

The sixth through the tenth quatrains take the reader on the hike with the speaker and his "merry guide." They ramble "across the glittering pastures / And empty upland" where shepherds still tend their flocks.

They continue past "hanging woods and hamlets / That gaze through orchards down." They see windmills, and his merry guide "smiles," still never speaking but continues to lead the way.

They encounter "blowing realms of woodland / With sunstruck vanes a field." The walk seems endless and they cover a lot of territory. The speaker is happy as he follows his nostalgic memory-ghost through the beautiful countryside: "Content at heart I followed / With my delightful guide."

Eleventh-Fifteenth Quatrains: "And like the cloudy shadows"

The eleven quatrain finds the speaker's hiking buddy beginning to branch into the many lives which the speaker has experienced. The speaker has not only hiked through these fields before when he was young, but he has also encountered these many pleasant experiences as he was maturing into adulthood.

Thus, the speaker dramatically asserts, "like the cloudy shadows / Across the country blown / We two fare on for ever, / But not we two alone."

Through all of the natural and beautiful bounty that he encounters, such as "the drift of blossoms / Whose petals throng the wind," and "dancing leaflets whirled / From all the woods that autumn," the speaker recaptures the spirit(s) of his entire life as it is recorded in his walks through the Shropshire landscape.

The group grows even larger, including friends who have also accompanied the speaker on these walks, and he pays homage to "all that ever died," as he continues to follow the youth that he was, the youth who now leads all of the memory-ghosts on this special walk.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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