Why Not Your Heart Away?

From A Shropshire Lad:

housman

When I was one-and-twenty I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas but not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies but keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty, no use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty and sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty and oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

That’s why. Alfred doesn’t look the grooviest malchick who ever spacked out on cider in Wiltshire, but appearances can be deceptive.

I had never read the whole poem until a couple of months ago, long after I started the book. I’d heard the line ‘blue remembered hills’ the way lots of people sort-of almost have.

Dennis Potter wrote a play called that, about middle-aged men dressing up as schoolboys and playing in the woods, a affluent retirement dystopia that leans a little too heavily on Lord of the Flies transposed to Surrey with an element of Brian Rix farce thrown in to make it massively succesful, I would have thought.

What I like about A Shropshire Lad is something that some kind reviewers have said about Not Your Heart Away; underneath the sunny, bucolic forever trance of the memory of those hills there’s an unstated menace, something you can read as almost a dread of finding whatever it is you went there looking for.

A long time ago I went to see a magician, a shaman, a white witch, call it what you will. He told me one of the things I keep close to me: Be careful what you wish for, in case you get it.
Not original maybe; a homily that is at least as old as Icarus, who wanted to fly and like Ben, flew much too close to the sun.

But that, for me, is the thing hidden at the heart of the blue remembered hills, the heart of the poem. The heart of Not Your Heart Away too.

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