Week 364: Tell me not here, it needs not saying, by A.E.Housman

I have always felt this week’s offering to be one of the most beautiful of English poems, at least as far as the first four verses go. I could do without the last verse, in which the elegy edges over into self-pity: if you really have to state the obvious about man’s relationship to ‘heartless, witless nature’ then I rather prefer the breezy acceptance of W.H.Auden’s lines: ‘Looking up at the stars I know quite well/That for all they care I can go to hell’. Well, quite. The universe is not about us. Which need not prevent us from finding it an immensely interesting place, and being grateful for the opportunity to observe it for a brief span. 

Tell me not here, it needs not saying

Tell me not here, it needs not saying,
What tune the enchantress plays
In aftermaths of soft September
Or under blanching mays,
For she and I were long acquainted
And I knew all her ways.

On russet floors, by waters idle,
The pine lets fall its cone;
The cuckoo shouts all day at nothing
In leafy dells alone;
And traveller’s joy beguiles in autumn
Hearts that have lost their own.

On acres of the seeded grasses
The changing burnish heaves;
Or marshalled under moons of harvest
Stand still all night the sheaves;
Or beeches strip in storms for winter
And stain the wind with leaves.

Possess, as I possessed a season,
The countries I resign,
Where over elmy plains the highway
Would mount the hills and shine,
And full of shade the pillared forest
Would murmur and be mine.

For nature, heartless, witless nature,
Will neither care nor know
What stranger’s feet may find the meadow
And trespass there and go,
Nor ask amid the dews of morning
If they are mine or no.



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