Tuesday, 30 November 2010


The exercise in repetitious discomfort and inconvenience that is commuting is occasionally enlivened by a moment of magical transcendence. One such recent example was produced by reading an A.E. Housman poem (presented in the highly commendable series of 'Poems on the Underground', displayed in tube trains) with which I was not familiar.

Here dead we lie, because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is, and we were young.

Like much brilliant poetry, great power of thought and emotion are conveyed here in deceptively simple-seeming fashion. I love the way in which the most startling line (the third) is also that which most diverges from the iambic rhythm, embodying in sound the contrast between the more mundane, even perhaps naive, sentiments of the first two lines and the shocking philosophy behind this statement about life.

Since reading this poem, I have been tediously reciting it at people, and it has stayed with me far longer than have the quotidian irritations of people walking through 'no entry' areas in the tube and sitting on one and a half seats on the overground.


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