What is the gist of what "On Wenlock Edge the Wood's in Trouble" by A. E. Housman is about?On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble; His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves; The gale, it plies the...
What is the gist of what "On Wenlock Edge the Wood's in Trouble" by A. E. Housman is about?
On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble; His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves; The gale, it plies the saplings double, And thick on Severn snow the leaves.
'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger When Uricon the city stood: 'Tis the old wind in the old anger, But then it threshed another wood.
Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman At yonder heaving hill would stare: The blood that warms an English yeoman, The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.
There, like the wind through woods in riot, Through him the gale of life blew high; The tree of man was never quiet: Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.
The gale, it plies the saplings double, It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone: To-day the Roman and his trouble Are ashes under Uricon.
This very interesting and stirring poem by A. E. Housman, "On Wenlock Edge the Wood's in Trouble," is the poetic speaker's lament for his supposed fate. It is constructed as a double metaphor that equates a personified wind and woods bent double to (1) the trouble of life for an imagined Roman in England and to (2) the trouble of life for himself; he ends with a prophesy of his upcoming fate. The key to understanding the poem is understanding the vocabulary, so we'll start there.
Wenlock Edge is an escarpment (steep hill face or cliff) in Shropshire, England. In the phrase "the wood's in trouble," Housman personifies the woods growing on the escarpment, which explains "his" of the next line: "his" equals the woods. "Forest fleece" is the snow covering the woods, so the setting of this lament is winter. "Wrekin" in "the Wrekin heaves" is the name of a village in the Midlands sector of England. Wrekin is also personified because it "heaves." Severn is a river running in East Wales and West England, a river thick with snow and leaves.
A "holt" is a wood or grove, while a "hanger" is wood on a steep hill, primarily a beech wood on a chalk hill in Southern England (we seem to be going all over the map: Midlands, Wales, West England, South England). Uricon was an ancient Roman city near Shrewsbury, England, which is in the Midlands area. Finally "old anger" of the personified wind is best understood as the more common personification of the fury of the wind.
The theme is embodied in the lines, "The tree of man was never quiet: / Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I." The prophesy of his fate is laid out in the stanza following the theme that equates the speaker with the Roman:
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.
So to put all this together, the poetic speaker laments his troubles and his prophesied fate (a fate of uniquely overwhelming trouble, not just a universal fate of death) by recalling the immortal inviolable action of the relentless winter wind in and throughout England and by recalling the history of the Romans in England through the imagery of one isolated individual Roman. The speaker feels that the wind of his troubles will bow him double like the saplings on the escarpment and that like the Roman, he will die a merciless end. Therefore the "Wood's in Trouble" of the title refers to all parts of the metaphor, including the speaker.
Housman anthropomophises the wind and woods etc. rather than peronifies them.
Anthropomorphism - When something non-human is presented as human. For example "The wind blew".
Personification - When something non-human is addressed as human. For example, spoken to as if it were a person: "Hello lamp post, what cha knowin? I've come to watch your flowers growin."