“Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff,” poem LXII of A Shropshire Lad, is commonly considered Housman’s apologia. In this next-to-last poem in A Shropshire Lad, Housman moves toward the conclusion of his presentation of his many themes and offers justification for the melancholy tone of his poetry.
The poem is structured as a dialogue between Terence, the poet figure, and one of Terence’s friends, who initially chides Terence for writing poetry that is somber and thought provoking rather than uplifting and celebratory. The friend warns Terence, jestingly, that he is driving his friends “Moping melancholy mad” with his serious poetry, and that they would prefer something happier, “a tune to dance to.”
Terence responds that the purpose of his poetry is not to entertain but to strengthen and instruct. In fact, Terence suggests that if all that his friends want to do is to have a good time, then there is dancing and drinking for them in which to participate, but that these are hardly answers for life’s many problems. Terence claims to know that from personal experience. Therefore, Terence explains, because life is full of uncertainties, heartbreak, and pain, people should prepare themselves accordingly. His poetry, then, is written to prepare each person for “the dark and cloudy day” that each one will surely face.
Terence concludes his response to his friend’s complaint by relating the ancient tale of King Mithridates, who, anticipating that rivals would attempt to poison him, took small amounts of arsenic and strychnine and developed an immunity to them. Thus, when the attempted assassination occurred, Mithridates was prepared to ward off the ill effects of the poison. Likewise, Terence insists that the poetry will help immunize his readers against “the embittered hour” when they come face to face with adversity.
In “Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff,” Housman reemphasizes his theme of stoicism and suggests, once again, that life is made bearable by concentrating on its tragedies, and by doing so, one learns to live in the face of adversity.