Into my heart an air that kills

Into my heart an air that kills
  From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
  What spires, what farms are those?

This is the land of lost content,
  I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
  And cannot come again.

A.E. Housman (1859-1936) spent much of his life as a Latin professor at Trinity College, Cambridge, concentrating on arcane areas of Latin scholarship and acquiring a reputation as aloof and demanding. He seemed an unlikely candidate to have written one of the most beloved poetry collections in English.

His A Shropshire Lad was published in a tiny edition in 1896. According to Housman himself, his style had been shaped by Shakespeare, the Border Ballads of Scotland and the poems of Germany's Heinrich Heine. Inspired by those models, Housman created a unique voice that reminds us of poetry's ability to produce heart-shaking emotion with a handful of words.

Housman's collection was a book people loved to read and share: Thomas Hardy received a copy at Christmas in 1902. Later admirers included Robert Graves, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath. Randall Jarrell liked Housman's poetry so much he wrote his Vanderbilt master's thesis about it. T.S. Eliot said simply, "We should all write poetry like Housman, if only we could." 

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