The Poem

“Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff” takes its title from the first line of poem sixty-two of A. E. Housman’s first and most important collection of poems, A Shropshire Lad. The poem is divided into four verses of varying length and purpose that, taken together, provide an apology or defense of what is generally regarded as Housman’s pessimistic poetry.

The speaker of the first stanza addresses the poet’s persona, Terence, who is the ostensible author of the preceding poems. Clearly, the speaker is unhappy with the sort of poetry Terence composes. In fact, he reminds the poet that he seems to be in reasonably good health considering his general consumption of food and drink. Terence’s companion in life has no patience with poetry that speaks of broken hearts and broken lives. Further, he accuses Terence of having such a dismal view of life “melancholy mad” that his poetry is endangering the sanity and well-being of his friends, even to the point of being life-threatening. His counsel is that Terence take up a happier mode of existence: “Come pipe a tune to dance to, lad.”

In the next two stanzas the poet (“Terence”) takes up a lively defense of his work. First, he reminds his friend that if he’s looking simply for pleasure, he’s come to the wrong place: Breweries are a better place to find solace from life’s troubles. Moreover, the poet suggests that the making and consuming of beer is a national endeavor, one in which the upper classes profit from the manufacture of beer consumed in great quantities by the common man. The poet questions why else the great breweries of Burton were built on the river Trent and why the English grow...

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Forms and Devices

Much of the appeal of Housman’s poetry derives from its apparent simplicity. The adoption of the persona of Terence Hearsay, a country lad from Shropshire whose conversational candor makes Housman’s poetry immediately accessible to the reader, accounts for much of the continuing popularity of A Shropshire Lad. It is difficult to imagine having an acquaintance with poetry without having encountered “When I Was One-and-Twenty” or “To an Athlete Dying Young.” These poems express the loss of love, youth, and life in a manner so simple and direct that they have become staples of English textbooks and classrooms. Yet one must be careful not to mistake simplicity of style for lack of sophistication. The animus of the classical scholar Alfred Edward Housman informs the poetic voice of Housman’s Terence. The simple yeoman’s reflections on the demands of life draw on a breadth of knowledge and experience beyond that which one associates with rural life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in “Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff.”

In this poem, the contrast between form and content provides a bridge between reader and scholar/poet. The opening stanza questions the very nature of Terence’s poetic efforts as his unnamed friend challenges the entire body of work. Moreover, the challenge is put in such a way that the reader can easily recognize it from one’s own adolescent struggles with sad words about dead people who never seemed to get it right—“It gives a chap the...

(The entire section is 614 words.)