Read by Richard Mitchley, Ghizela Rowe & Jake Urry (Unabridged: 1hr 21mins)
This now seminal collection of sixty-three poems was originally self-published by Housman in 1896 after rejections from publishers. None saw its potential.
Housman, it is said, originally wanted to name the book, The Poems of Terence Hearsay, referring to a character within, but changed the title to A Shropshire Lad at the suggestion of a colleague.
The poems were mainly written in 1895 whilst Housman was living in Byron Cottage in Highgate. The book sold slowly. The initial print run of 500 took two years to sell through. However by 1911 annual sales were in the order of 13,500 copies and, during World War I, the book accompanied many young men into the trenches.
It thereafter became a cultural icon, remembering a gentler time, a better time.
Housman did confess that much of what he had written about, especially in terms of terrain and geography was assumed rather than known. But such poetic licence is easily set aside when the finished work is read and admired.
As George Orwell later remembered, "these were the poems which I and my contemporaries used to recite to ourselves, over and over, in a kind of ecstasy".