Art and Photographic History Literature Poetry

Housman on The First of May


The orchards half the way
From home to Ludlow fair
Flowered on the first of May
In Mays when I was there;
And seen from stile or turning
The plume of smoke would show
Where fires were burning
That went out long ago.

The plum broke forth in green,
The pear stood high and snowed,
My friends and I between
Would take the Ludlow road;
Dressed to the nines and drinking
And light in heart and limb,
And each chap thinking
The fair was held for him.

Between the trees in flower
New friends at fairtime tread
The way where Ludlow tower
Stands planted on the dead.
Our thoughts, a long while after,
They think, our words they say;
Theirs now’s the laughter,
The fair, the first of May.

Ay, yonder lads are yet
The fools that we were then;
For oh, the sons we get
Are still the sons of men.
The sumless tale of sorrow
Is all unrolled in vain:
May comes to-morrow
And Ludlow fair again.


See also

knight, dame laura - Penzance Fair | Knight art, Art, Knight
Corpus Christi Fair by Dame Laura Knight

Classics Literature Poetry

Musings on Catullus, Housman and Stoppard

From Catullus 64

Peliaco quondam prognatae uertice pinus
dicuntur liquidas Neptuni nasse per undas
Phasidos ad fluctus et fines Aeetaeos,
cum lecti iuuenes, Argiuae robora pubis,
auratam optantes Colchis auertere pellem
ausi sunt uada salsa cita decurrere puppi,
caerula uerrentes abiegnis aequora palmis.
diua quibus retinens in summis urbibus arces,
ipsa leui fecit uolitantem flamine currum,
pinea coniungens inflexae texta carinae.
illa rudem cursu prima imbuit Amphitriten.
quae simul ac rostro uentosum proscidit aequor,
tortaque remigio spumis incanuit unda,
emersere feri candenti e gurgite uultus
aequoreae monstrum Nereides admirantes.
illa, atque haud alia, uiderunt luce marinas
mortales oculi nudato corpore Nymphas

It is said that formerly pines sprung from Pelion’s peak
swam the liquid waves of Neptune
To the waves of Phasis and the lands of Aeetes,
When the chosen youths, the strength of Argive manhood
Choosing to run away with the Golden Fleece from the Colchians,
They dared to traverse with swift ship through the salty waters,
Sweeping the azure sea with fir oars,
For whom the goddess herself occupying the citadels in the highest cities
Made the flying chariot with a light wind,
Fitting the pine timbers to the curved keel.
She first stained inexperienced Amphitrite with sailing;
But which likewise plowed the fickle wave with curved ship’s beak
And the water, twisted by the rowing grew warm with foam,
Aquatic Nereids emerged their faces from the white eddies
Admiring the apparition
On that day, and hardly any other, mortals saw with their own eyes
Marine nymphs, with naked body,

I had just been reading the Stoppard play about Houseman in which this passage is referenced called “The Invention of Love”.

In a recent discussion at Jewish Book Week 2021, Hermione Lee mentioned that this was Stoppard’s favourite play. It was first published in 1997 and given it’s themes I wondered if it’s writing had any connection with Stoppard’s feelings about Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. This very interesting play can be viewed on You Tube but sadly the quality of the sound is not very good.

I think it is interesting that Stoppard who appears not to have had a University Education appears so interested in the minutaie of recondite and eclectic matters such as logical positivism (Jumpers) or textual analysis as in this play.

Isn’t it interesting how the road not taken, so to speak, may become so interesting one’s later in life. This was seemingly the case about higher education with Tom Stoppard who has become so formidably well read and erudite. I was thinking too of James Callaghan a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979. He became so very interested in Education and seems to have engendered the changes that resulted in the National Curriculum.

The other major figure that springs to mind is George Orwell. However, my most recent encounter with Orwell portrays him rather more as the man of action and not perhaps very interested in University Education as that of describing authoritarian atmosphere of the minor Prep school. I was reading fairly recently an account by Rayner Heppenstall in his engaging account Four Absentees which mentions the time the author spent with Orwell in their Camden flat-

It is difficult to imagine what Orwell might have chosen to read had he gone to University and then again he was young at a time well before the expansion of University Education. Perhaps, he is now studied under the area of Media Studies. There appears to be considerable debate about his writing. Personally I found his diaries which I think appeared in Penguin around 1988 absorbingly interesting.

Darcy Moore's Blog |ORWELL COLLECTION - Darcy Moore's Blog

Orwell and Stoppard are both concerned with language and truth. When looking at this play, there is a debate about the relative merits of poetry and academic scholarship as well as the human relationships. Houseman the classicist obsessed by the scientific and heterosexual Jackson. Obsessed too with such close textual analysis that he seems to missed his first in Greats. How might he be diagnosed or labelled nowadays one wonders.

After recently reading Three Rings by Daniel Mendelsohn (A tale of Exile, Narrative and Fate) I have been tempted to explore diversions and must now return to the text above.

The first two lines above do not appear to make a great deal of sense in English. My Heinemann edition translated by F.W.Cornish (Erstwhile Vice-Provost of Eton) 2nd Edition 1914 gives-

Pine-trees of old, born on top of the Pelion, are said to have swam through the clear waters of Neptune to the waves of Phasis and the realms of Aeetes, when the chosen youths, the flowers of Argive strength, desiring to bear away from the Colchians the golden fleece...

Now the obvious difficulty in getting the poetry here is the number of allusions with which the text is crammed. The sort of associations that in Keats time many were familiar. Looking them up…..

Pelion is simply there as a mountain today and looks gorgeous too.

Pelion: the forgotten Greek peninsula with alpine treks and sandy beaches –  but no tourists

Phasis appears to be beautiful -The Rioni river, as it is called in classical sources.  Ancient Greek Φᾶσις as it says in Wikitionary! Aeetes may be found at, an ancient King of Colchis who has been represented thus:-


“The flowers of Argive strength” is rather lovely and associated with gladiolus flowers which suggest not only strength but honour and moral integrity. Gladius being Latin for sword. Argive refers to the ancient city of Argos and obviously not the on-line delivery store! Argos (Ancient Argos, located in the Peloponnese in Greece, was a major Mycenaean settlement in the Late Bronze Age (1700-1100 BCE) and remained important throughout the Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman periods until its destruction by the Visigoths in 395 CE)

The full import of Catullus 64 may be found at

Finally, there is a little possible alternative at line 14 where freti might replace feri above and seems to mean narrow-anyway freti candenti sounds rather nice though I cannot quite make sense of it. It seemsto refer to a white narrow watery space I am told. See and according to Cornish might instead mean “wild visages” of the emerging Neriads in the spume of the churning oars. Houseman and probably Stoppard would doubtless be intrigued by these codd. (Codices) Referring to the different manuscripts. Cornish in my book -1st Edition 1912 refers to 7 different manuscripts- one of which is in the Bodleian and one of which is no longer extant but 6 of the others are derived from it. Codex Veronensis.

Book Reviews Classics German Matters Literature

Writing in Exile-the Land of Lost Content

The lines from A.E.Housman are well known:-

Into my heart an air that kills
 From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
 What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
 I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
 And cannot come again.

The condition of being in Exile, is one common element in the human condition. It is certainly an important factor in Irish culture as is well pointed out in this excerpt from The Guardian on Beckett and Joyce –

Here Sean O’Hagan mentions,”This sense of spiritual as well as cultural displacement was evoked, too, by the poet Patrick Kavanagh, who walked the streets around Ealing Broadway in 1953 willing himself to remember his native Monaghan “until a world comes to life – morning, the silent bog”. In the second half of that same decade, an estimated half a million people left Ireland to begin their lives all over again, abroad.” There is spiritual exile, linguistic exile and the sense of personal exile when someone close dies or moves away, in an emotional or geographical sense.

George Klaar (1920-2009)
George Klaar (1920-2009)

TLW I have just been reading a deeply moving account of lost Austrian-Jewish culture in George Klaar’s Last Waltz in Vienna and was sorry to hear of his passing. .This threnody mentions his experiences not only in Vienna but also in Berlin, from where Klaar attempted his escape from the Nazis, initially to Ireland. A different approach and general introduction to exilliteratur ( is to be found in Martin Maunthner’s book on German Writers in French Exile 1933-1940. Mauthner was born in Leningrad of  Austrian parents. He worked in journalism and with the

Katharina Mann in Munich in 1905-she later converted to Lutheranism
Katharina Mann in Munich in 1905-she later converted to Lutheranism

European Commission in Brussels as a senior information officer. He also worked with Randolph Churchill on the biography of the latter’s father. In fact the book centres around a small port near Toulon. It makes much mention too of Aldous Huxley, Somerset Maugham,H.G.Wells, Muggeridge and Mosley. The French writers, Malraux and Gide are included in this account of the émigré community which provides an introduction to the intellectual drama and the tragic zeitgeist of this seven year period. The major figures are naturally Thomas, whose wife Katia came from a wealthy Jewish family of mathematicians, and his francophile brother Heinrich Mann, as well as Thomas’s son Klaus who engaged in a bitter battle of words at one stage with the Berlin based, Gottfried Benn- before the latter was to realise the full implication of Goebbel’s authoritarian drive from 1933 to achieve the synchronisation of the arts (Gleichschaltung) from his Ministry of Propaganda as Weimar collapse. Directed against Bolshevism it engendered militarism and focussed on anti-semitism taking in gypsies and homosexuals on the way and ending in the horrors of the Holocaust. This was all under the title of popular enlightenment. The account by Mauthner lacks the stylistic verve of George Klaar’s biographical account which affords an insight into the historical development of fascism upon Jewish life in Vienna.

Many Jews who were physically harassed and otherwise threatened by the Nazis and travelled to many locations and were exiled to Amsterdam, Stockholm, Zürich, London, Prague, Moscow as well as across the Atlantic to both North and South America. Martin Mauthner’s book seems to have three great strengths. It shows the wide variety of responses of individual refugees and their attempts to organise opposition to Hitler and the hampering difficulties other countries governments and other organisations presented. There is considerable detail about individuals like Feuchtwanger and Schwarzschild, famous at the time and now unfortunately neglected as well as journalists, publishers, cartoonists and illustrators. This book confines itself to writers, poets and playwrights but is particularly intriguing on the splits with the communists and within the United Front. The cruel trials under the auspices of Stalin proving a profound sticking point; also the different approaches in the Spanish Civil War.

Leopold Schwarzschild Editor of Das Neue Tagebuch
Leopold Schwarzschild
Editor of Das Neue Tagebuch

Just this morning I recieved an interesting posting concerning classical antiquity from with a version of Ovid’s Tristia and the mortifying effects of having to leave his wife behind in charge of his posessions.

Illa dolōre āmēns tenebrīs nārrātur obortīs
   sēmjanimis mediā prōcubuisse domō,
utque resurrēxit foedātis pulvere turpī
  crīnibus et gelidā membra levāvit humō,
sē modo, dēsertōs modo complōrāsse Penātēs,
  nōmen et ēreptī saepe vocāsse virī,
nec gemuisse minus, quam sī nātaeve meumve
 vīdisset strūctōs corpus habēre, rogōs,
et voluisse morī, moriendō pōnere sēnsus,
   respectūque tamen nōn periisse meī.
Vīvat, et absentem, quoniam sīc fāta tulērunt,
    vīvat et auxiliō sublevet usque suō.

Translated by A.Z.Foreman as:-

I’m told she fainted from grief, mind plunged in dark,   
   And fell half-dead right there in our house.
When she came round, with disheveled dust-fouled hair,   
   Staggering up from the cold hard ground,
She wept for herself, for a house abandoned, screaming   
   Her stolen man’s name time after time,
Wailing as though she’d witnessed our daughter’s body   
   Or mine, upon the high-stacked pyre;
And longed for death, to kill the horror and hardship,   
   Yet out of regard for me she lived.
Long may she live! And in life give aid to her absent   
   Love, whose exile the Fates have willed. Tristia