A Shropshire Lad "Malt Does More Than Milton Can"

A. E. Housman

"Malt Does More Than Milton Can"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: A. E. Housman's original title for A Shropshire Lad was Poems by Terence Hearsay, Terence being an imaginary farm lad who supposedly lived in the county of Shropshire. Housman develops the poem beginning "'Terence, this is stupid stuff:'" by means of a dialog between Terence and his friend. The friend finds Terence drinking his beer rapidly, and, commenting on Terence's poetry, says, "Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad." Terence's response is that there are better things to dance to than poetry. He first asks, "Say, for what were hop-yards meant?"; then in answer to his question he praises the power that beer has to make a man see a different kind of world. But Terence knows that the world of alcoholic spirits is an illusory one and that "The mischief is that 'twill not last." He explains that after a drinking bout, he sobers up to find that it is "the old world yet" and that he must "begin the game anew." In showing the advantage of alcohol over poetry, Terence says:

Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think: . . .