Paul Keegan at the London Review of Books:
Parker is interested in the daisies and dandelions, the untidy and contingent evidences of Housman’s continuing presence in an England whose further reaches include Morse or Morrissey. In the West Country you can drink Shropshire Lad ale or you could (until recently) be drawn by a locomotive of that name. But Housman had foresuffered all, with his lads who down their troubles in ‘pints and quarts of Ludlow beer’; or in a letter to his brother Laurence in 1920: ‘I have just flown to Paris and back, and I am never going by any other route, until they build the Channel Tunnel.’ Housman was already in full possession of the Housman effect. If it is time to move on, moving on is what Housman makes difficult. ‘Housman has left no followers,’ MacNeice wrote in 1938, while also suggesting that he was the poet ‘with whom any history of modern English poetry might very well start’. Opinion about his relation to his age has always been self-divided. He said he had no relation to it. Edmund Wilson wrote in 1938 that the poems ‘went on vibrating for decades’, despite their lethal pastoral of condemned men and suicides, soldiers and doomed lovers, their stopped clock of velleities and arrested intimacies.
The poems have often been mothballed as the sum of their props, starting with Pound’s ‘Song in the Manner of Housman’: ‘People are born and die,/We also shall be dead pretty soon/Therefore let us act as if we were/Dead already’; Woolf in 1936 summarised the personal mythology as ‘May, death, lads, Shropshire’; Orwell in 1940 listed ‘suicide, unhappy love, early death’; Forster in 1950 ticked off ‘the football and cherry trees, the poplars and glimmering weirs, the red coats, the darnel and the beer … the homesickness and bed-sickness, the yearning for masculine death’.