Siegfried Sassoon – “The General”, “Glory of Women”, “Everyone Sang”, “On Passing the New Menin Gate”

“The General” is a short poem about the destructive power of incompetent commanders, even – or especially – those who seem personable and “nice”. The General met the soldiers last week, as they were heading for the frontline and greeted them with cheerful “Good-morning, good-morning!”, but now most of the soldiers he greeted in this way are dead, and the surviving are “cursing his staff for incompetent swine”. A soldier named Harry calls him “a cheery old card” [wag] and (though there are different readings of this poem) it seems to me that it’s meant to be a conversation from the previous week, before the failed attack, because the last verse is “But he did for them both with his plan of attack”. The word “but” implies, in my opinion, that the soldiers took his cheerfulness at face value and were cruelly undeceived when he turned out to be incompetent.

The sonnet “Glory of Women” is somewhat tinged with misogyny, as some of Sassoon’s poems are. It’s an attack on naively patriotic women supporting the war effort at home, but clinging to the outdated idea of chivalry, which has no relevance for modern warfare. Women love to hear the stories of war heroes, home on leave, when they are “wounded in a mentionable place”, make shells, praise their fight and mourn their memory. The sestet switches to the more negative side of women’s engagement, when they can’t believe “when British troops ‘retire'”, because they don’t know what that means – being completely broken by horrors and running “trampling the terrible corpses”. Then in the last three lines the poet imaginatively sees the other side of the home front: a German mother knitting socks for her son who is already dead and is one of those trampled in the mud.

The next two poems could be called “post-war poems”, dealing with the experience of the end of the war and its commemoration. “Everyone Sang” doesn’t refer explicitly to the end of the war: it begins with “everyone suddenly burst out singing” and it’s never explained why, although it’s not difficult to make the connection. The poet felt at that moment like a caged bird set free and flying above meadows and out of sight. The second stanza begins with the similar “everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted”, building a parallel with the first verse of the previous stanza. The poet feels moved – though he doesn’t show it – to tears and realizes that his experience is shared by everybody – “everyone/was a bird” and the wordless song started back then shall never be done. I sense an echo of George Herbert here and I can’t quite put my finger on why; maybe it’s the bird metaphor.

The New Menin Gate is a monument in Ypres in memory of those who fought in the Ypres Salient and whose bodies were never recovered. The sonnet “On Passing the New Menin Gate” is a savage attack on the monument, which Sassoon considered to be, paradoxically, an obliteration of the dead rather than their commemoration. This is an English sonnet (unlike “Glory of Women”, which was an Italian one). The first stanza is made up of rhetorical questions: who is going to remember the soldiers who were the canon fodder in the battle, not by choice but because they were conscripted? He considers the monument an exercise in hypocrisy, an attempt to pay “with peace-complacent stone” for the loss of their lives. The inscription on the gate says “Their name liveth for ever”, but the poet considers it to be a denial of their deaths, because become a part of the long list of “nameless names”. In the final couplet he imagines the dead rising and deriding “this sepulchre of crime”.

Menenpoort ieper
Johan Bakker, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Siegfried Sassoon – “‘They'”, “The Rear-Guard”

Jimmy Dean Smith wrote about Siegfried Sassoon that even though he was one of the few ‘War Poets’ who survived the war, “in some sense… he was as much casualty of the Great War as his friend Wilfred Owen”, since he spent his whole long writing career in its shadow and the poems written as the result of war came to define him. He was born in a wealthy family (the Sassoons were called “the Rothchilds of the East”, though his father was disinherited for marrying a Gentile) and named Siegfried by his Wagner-loving mother, a bit ironically, since the defining event of his life was fighting Germans. Still, the smalt private income he had and a bigger inheritance he got after the war from his wealthy aunt meant that he really never had to worry about making a living and led the existence of, as he called himself in the title of his autobiography, “a fox-hunting gentleman” until he enlisted. He fought bravely and was decorated, but during his medical leave in 1917 he declared publicly he wasn’t going to return to the war which he considered at this stage senseless. This could end very badly for him, but his friend Robert Graves managed to pull some strings and Sassoon was officially diagnosed as shell-shocked (WWI word for PTSD) and sent to a sanatorium where he befriended Wilfred Owen. Then he was sent back to the front, gout wounded again, sent home, and then finally the war ended, formally, but for him it went on.

“‘They'” is a poem ironically juxtaposing the pompous words of a Bishop, perhaps delivering a sermon, and the words of the soldiers with real knowledge of the war. The Bishop says that “when the boys come back/they will not be the same” because they fought bravely and for a good cause; now they are going to start families and “breed an honourable race”. The sermon is presumably delivered to a congregation at home, because the Bishop refers to the soldiers as “they”. (On a side note, it’s really difficult to write the title of the poem, because it is already in the original text in quotation marks, so I have to use quotation marks twice.) Then the soldiers interrupt unexpectedly the official discourse with their real stories: indeed, they are not the same, and the Bishop’s smooth generalising symbolised by ‘they’ is replaced by individual soldiers’ names and their stories: George lost his legs, Bill is blind, Bert got syphilis. So they changed, but not really for better, to which the Bishop answers with the platitude “The ways of God are strange”.

“The Rear-Guard” is written like the previous one in rhyming stanzas, but while the rhyme pattern of the previous one was regular, here rhymes jump all over the place, as if conveying the jumbled experience of somebody trying to make his way through trenches of the Hindenburg Line. A nameless soldier is trying to make his way, and his torch shows him only fragments of his surroundings: “tins, boxes, battles, shapes too vague to know”. Finally he comes across somebody who seems to be crouching and pulls his arm, asking him about the way to the headquarters. When the man doesn’t answer him, the soldier, who is high-strung because of lack of sleep, angrily kicks him, but the soldier is now “a soft unanswering heap”, a dead body in whose eyes one can still see the horror. He staggers on and finally he finds the stair leading to his way out. He climbs out, “unloading hell behind him step by step”, trying to forget about the nightmarish experience he’s just had.

Mary Borden – “The Song of the Mud”

Mud, which was omnipresent in “Belgium“, is the main character in this free verse poem. It comes in so many varieties that it becomes almost beautiful: the yellow mud on the hills is compared to satin, the mud in the valleys is like silvery enamel. The mud covers the soldier, a synecdoche for all the infantry soldiers in the French army, whose coat, trousers, skin, beard, and helmet are made of mud. Mud is omnipresent, not only filling the trenches, but sneaking into the machines and into soldiers’ food. It soaks up the energy of the soldiers, the noise, and the whole battle. “The obscene, the filthy, the putrid” mud swallows the dead men without a trace. In the last stanza Borden refers to the verses from the first stanza about the yellow and silvery mud, and then in three lines she summarizes the respective next three stanzas, ending like she began: “This is the song of the mud”.

Mary Borden – “Belgium”

Mary Borden was an American heiress, suffragette, philanthropist and – which concerns us the most here – an author. During WWI she worked as a nurse in a field hospital, which she financed with her own money (she returned to nursing work during WWII, setting up an ambulance unit). In 1917-18 she wrote a book The Forbidden Zone, containing a mixture of poems and poetic prose texts, which however was blocked by wartime censorship and consequently wasn’t published until 1929.

In “Belgium” the narrator addresses the imaginary listener, asking them to see the landscape around them: mud and rain, returning like refrains, very quite but one can sense the earth trembling. The speaker describes their position as trapped: at the back there is France, to the north (or their left, they are imagined facing east) there is a coast without a port, to the right there are British forces and ahead of them there is the frontline. There are no cities and none whole towns, but a few villages and the narrator invites the listener to come and see one. The small village is filled with the soldiers from the Belgian army, and this village, for the time being, is its headquarters – the King Albert I is stationed in a very unheroic small schoolroom, a little bit past the church and the dung heap. The trapped position of the Belgian soldiers is now explained – they have been retreating from the German army, fighting bravely and they have nowhere to go. A band is playing rather inexpertly the national anthem, but it can’t inspire these stupefied, dishevelled, hopeless soldiers. After the band finishes playing, they are going back to the inn to drink wine and coddle girls, because there is nothing left for them to do – only mud and rain. And in the meantime, while the narrator was talking about it to the speaker, the King left – oh, you missed him. Never mind, let’s go back to Dunkirk.

Edward Thomas – “The Cherry Trees”, “As the Team’s Head Brass”

“The Cherry Trees” is a very short and poignant poem to read, especially right now, just after the cherry trees have lost their blossom and the war is still going on. In just four lines Thomas expresses the incongruity we feel today between the beauty of springtime nature and human deaths. The petals of cherry blossoms are falling on the road “where all that passed are dead” and the flowers falling down are like the flowers strewn in front of the bride and groom at weddings, except that on that morning “there is none to wed”.

“As the Team’s Head Brass” is a vignette from the time between the start of the war and Thomas enlisting. The somewhat mysterious first line (mysterious at least for city rats like me) refers to the metal ornaments on the horse’s harness. The speaker is sitting in the field on a fallen elm, watching a ploughman working in the field. A couple of lovers disappear into the wood at the beginning of the poem, which may seem somewhat irrelevant, but it’s not. The ploughman is a friendly fellow and every time he passes the speaker by, he says a few words, first about the weather and then, inevitably, about the war. So they have this strange conversation in one-minute snatches interspersed by ten-minute pauses, during which he makes another round up and down. He tells the speaker that the elm was fallen by a blizzard, and when the speaker asks “When will they take it away?”, he answers “When the war’s over.” The next time he asks the speaker whether he has been “out”, meaning in the army, and when the speaker says no, asks him whether he would want to. The speaker is hesitant, saying that if only he knew he would be back. He wouldn’t mind so much losing an arm, but he would mind losing a leg, but if he lost his head – well, death seems preferable to being maimed. Then he asks the ploughman how many locals are gone to war, and the ploughman says so many that there are only two teams (of horses) working on the farm this year. The fallen include his friend, who was killed in France on the night of the blizzard. If he had been alive, they would have moved that tree together. That sets the speaker off to think about an alternative plotline: the tree would have been moved, and so he wouldn’t be sitting here, and it would be a completely different world. The ploughman agrees, saying it would be a better world, although maybe it’s difficult to comprehend the world from the viewpoint of a single human, and maybe the whole (tragic) course of events is from some kind of supernatural viewpoint something good. Then he turns around, and the lovers the speaker saw at the beginning of the poem disappearing in the forest now come out of it. This is the last time, the speaker says, that he saw the ploughman and his horse, so presumably he stood up and left that place.

Is Thomas describing the moment he made the decision to enlist? The scene is rural and idyllic, what with the lovers going to the woods and emerging out of them almost like in a Watteau painting. Many critics read this poem as Thomas realizing that this vision of rural England is under threat. The references to the ploughman scraping his ploughshare remind me of the biblical concept of beating swords into ploughshares as the promise of ultimate peace, although the more warlike prophet Joel wrote about beating ploughshares into swords. I was also thinking about how Thomas refers to the fallow field that the ploughman was apparently working on. Before the era of chemical fertilizers, farmers used various crop-rotation systems, which meant a bit of farmland was harrowed but no seeds were planted, and it was allowed to “rest” for a year. So from a one-year perspective, the ploughman’s work makes no sense – he is working on the field which isn’t going to produce any crops – but in the long run, the work is actually very meaningful. Maybe it’s like an illustration of the poet’s own existence, at first glance seemingly useless, to which the ploughman unknowingly refers, saying “if we could see all all might seem good”.* So summing up, the poem presents an exquisite equilibrium between the peaceful (lovers, fields) and the violent (blizzard, war) and it seems like it is at the tipping point of falling into one or another. With this poem I am ending the section on Edward Thomas. He was a wonderful poet.

*Going off on a tangent here, but Fritz Haber, the man who by inventing first artificial fertilizers made a major contribution to ending crop rotation, was also responsible for inventing chemical warfare and instrumental in the use of gases during WWI.

Edward Thomas – “Adlestrop”, “Tears”, “Rain”, “The Owl”

Before the War, Edward Thomas was mostly a non-fiction writer, producing a great deal of travel writing, literary biographies, and reviews (he was a famously prolific reviewer producing up to twenty book reviews a month). The prolific output was partly motivated by an effort to support his family, since Thomas became first a father rather early and, shall we say, unexpectedly. He was also an early champion and friend of Robert Frost. He started writing poetry at the outbreak of WWI, when he was deliberating over whether to enlist or not, and initially published it under a pseudonym, realizing the awkwardness of the situation in which a poetry critic becomes a poet himself. He continued writing poetry on the front, where he was tragically killed in 1917.

Most of the poems I read today are based on pre-war experiences which gain a new meaning in wartime. “Adlestrop” is the name of a small village in Gloucestershire and a railway station, which was closed in the 1960s, but lives on in this poem. The poem starts with a conversational “Yes, I remember Adlestrop”, and then the speaker explains – his train once made an unplanned stop there. The poem evokes the strange feeling one has during such technical stops: it’s completely silent, the train is not moving, nobody gets on or off the train. In the silence, somebody clears his throat, as if trying to fill in the sudden vacuum. But in fact, it’s not a vacuum – behind the sign with the station name there are meadows with willow trees and during that one minute the passengers can hear a blackbird singing close by, and further and “farther and farther, all the birds/Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.” It is as if the poem tried to tell the readers how much can be seen and heard if you just pause for a moment, and the specific references to English counties introduce an unobtrusive note of gentle love for one’s own country, emphasized by the fact that the poem is dated for January 1915, so it reads like a memory of better times. Also the rhythm of the poem, which is quite rough at the beginning, in the last two stanzas smoothens down into an almost perfect iambic tetrameter, as if the poem drifted from the rhythm of ordinary speech into a more lyrical mode. [EDIT: Bruno Derrick from the National Archives unearthed the railway schedule for the route and the day when Thomas took that train and he found out that the stop was in fact a planned one.]

“Tears”, in contrast, is written without rhymes, in what could be described as loosely rhythmic verse. Though the poem is titled “Tears”, it begins, paradoxically, with the declaration “It seems I have no tears left”, and then the poet proceeds to describe two situations from his past when they should have fallen, but at least “their ghosts, if tears have ghosts, did fall”. The first one is the image of a pack of hounds streaming by him “in their rage of gladness”, excited by the scent. The other, apparently incongruous, is the image of young soldiers changing the guard in the Tower of London, accompanied by the drum and fifes. The scene and the silence accompanying it, told the speaker “truths I had not dreamed/And have forgotten since their beauty passed”. So what could be these truths? One obvious link between these two images is that both the hounds and the young guardsmen are trained to become killing machines, and yet they are innocent, or at least the young men are at this point, when their military service is training and pretending to guard a historical monument of no military significance. So is the truth the fact that there is something deadly in every beautiful moment and is it what moves the speaker to tears?

“The Owl” is again a record of memory, this time written in simple rhyme abcb, in which the speaker remembers his coming from a long hike, pleasantly tired and hungry, to a comfortable inn, where his rest is interrupted by a melancholy cry of an owl. The owl’s cry reminds him about everyone who is not as lucky as him, left out there in the cold, “soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice”. This is a poem about the kind of anguish that all sensitive people experience, in wartime or not, and most of the time we push it to the back of our minds, or our lives would be unbearable. And yet I wonder about how the poet says that his food that night was “salted” by the bird’s voice and what it reminded him of. Salt in excess is of course unpleasant, and probably it should bring associations with salty tears. And yet we do like a bit of salt in our food, so maybe Thomas perhaps indicates a certain discomfort with the fact that the awareness of the misery of others made him appreciate his own comfort more, or in other words it did for him what his long walk did before.

There is no such hidden egotism in “Rain”, but quite on the contrary, almost an excess of empathy. Like “Tears”, “Rain” is written in loosely rhythmical verse, and though the poem is dated for January 1916, when Thomas was undergoing his military training, a Helpful Footnote quotes a passage from his book published just before the war and expressing very similar thoughts. The speaker, somewhere out in the field in a lonely hut, is sure that he is going to die and won’t be able to hear rain or thank it for “washing me cleaner than I have been/Since I was born into this solitude”. But his death doesn’t really concern him, rather, he prays that those he once loved are not now dead or lying awake in solitude and tormented by pain, or like him, by helpless sympathy. It’s a bleak world in which their emotions are like cold water among broken “still and stiff” reeds, evoking the images of corpses. The speaker thinks that his fellow soldiers, like him, now feel as if rain had dissolved all love in them, except for love of death, as long as you can love something which is perfect and can’t disappoint. But this is clearly not true, since he cares about their emotions, or at least projects his emotions on them (“they must be feeling as miserable as I do”) and this in turn makes him miserable, guessing how they feel, so the last lines seem more like very depressive wishful thinking.

Robert Service – “Only a Boche”

Robert W. Service was a highly successful Scottish-Canadian poet and novelist; as per his Wiki, he was given the middle name William after a rich uncle, but dropped it when he realized the said rich uncle wasn’t going to bequeath anything to him, which bold move I admire. Instead he went to Yukon where he was going to work as a banker for prospectors, but instead made his name and money by writing poems and novels about their lives. (I guess Canadians were really hungry for seeing their country in literature.) That money allowed him to move to France shortly before WWI. When the war broke, he tried to enlist but was refused for health reasons. Instead he worked very courageously in various capacities on the battlefield with the Red Cross and the poem added to the 10th edition of the NAEL is a result of that.

Like Kipling, to whom he is often compared, Service channels the voice of a regular soldier, a French stretcher bearer who has just carried a wounded German soldier, “a Boche”, from the battlefield. He is doubtful about the point of their sacrifice, since the soldier is seriously wounded and the doctor says he doesn’t have a chance. Now the stretcher bearers are sitting in the dug-out, waiting for the ambulance, playing bridge. During a pause in the game the speaker gets up to stretch and approaches the wounded man. He has an uncanny feeling the man looks a lot like him and it’s strange to look at a face very much like his own, but all bloodied and pale, with one of his eyes missing and his skull cracked open. Then he notices other similarities about him: a wedding ring on his finger, a locket with the face of a woman, probably his wife, and when he turns the locket around, of course there are three angelic-looking children on the back- at least that’s the difference between them, the speaker has only two kids. The speaker feels sad not so much about the inevitable death of this man, but also about the loss it is going to mean to his family. War is war and all that, but he’s going to be very glad when he hears the ambulance, and also he’s glad that he’s not the one who shot him. The poem ends with him returning to his game of cards, apologizing to his partner for getting lost in thoughts and exclaiming “Quelle vache de guerre!”

The poem is written in a kind of doggerel long verses, which perhaps could be called accentual (there seem to be about seven stressed syllables per line, although I haven’t counted all of them). It is an interesting vignette from the frontlines, but not a particularly great work of literature. Service is usually considered to be a sort of lowcost Kipling/London crossover, and that poem didn’t really prove it wrong. I am not sure if dropping Housman’s “The Chestnut Casts His Flambeaux” in favour of that was the right call, but I guess the NAEL editors wanted to acknowledge the participation of other Commonwealth countries in the Great War? Service survived the war, although sadly he lost his brother, to whom the collection of the wartime poems, from which “Only a Boche” comes, is dedicated. On a bright side, he lived a very happy life in Paris, where (again per his Wiki) he was reputedly the richest writer residing in the city and where “during the day he would promenade in the best suits, with a monocle. At night he went out in old clothes with the company of his doorman, a retired policeman, to visit the lowest dives of the city”. It seems like a great lifestyle choice.

Rupert Brooke – “The Soldier”

Rupert Brooke is so quintessentially an epitome of a young English gentleman his photo could be printed on Tetley tea mugs. And it would make a very nice-looking mug, since his matinee-idol looks were legendary; W. B. Yeats called him “the handsomest young man in England”. He attended both Rugby (where both of his parents were staff members) and Cambridge, dabbled a little bit in journalism, travelled through the USA and the Pacific (where he may or may not have fathered an illegitimate child with a Tahitian woman) and wrote some poetry before the war, but didn’t publish any. During the Christmas leave in 1914 he wrote five sonnets, two of which, including “The Soldier”, were published in the TLS in March 1915, and included in his first collection of poems, published in May of the same year. Brooke, unfortunately, didn’t live to see the success of that volume, having died of septicaemia on the ship on its way to Gallipoli. He was the third child his mother lost (after a daughter who died in infancy and Rupert’s older brother, who died of pneumonia before the war), but heartbreakingly, not the last – her last surviving child, Rupert’s younger brother, was killed in Flanders a month after his death.

“The Soldier” is a very idealistic patriotic verse – as almost all the commentators point out, Brooke wrote it without actually seeing much military action, because even though he enlisted right at the outbreak of the war, luckily for him he was posted mostly far away from the frontlines, apart from one day in Belgium. It revolves around the conceit “where the dead soldier lies, there is a bit of his homeland” employed by other patriotic poets from many different countries as well. The poet imagines that if he dies, his burial place is going to become “forever England”, because his body was shaped by England’s air, water and land. In the sestet he moves from his body to his soul: his heart (significantly, he avoids the word “soul”, perhaps deeming it too overtly Christian) is now reunited with “the Eternal mind” and with whatever was evil in it gone, now gives back all the thoughts, dreams and sights which it learnt in England, “under an English heaven”. Contemporary critics are usually rather dismissive of Brooke, perhaps as a backlash against his popular success in the years immediately after his death. (And not only contemporary critics – Alfred “Bosie” Douglas was very scathing about the fact that the nation of Shakespeare and Keats became enamoured with Brooke’s “puerile crudities” and saw it as the sign of the complete decline of British literary taste.) And yet there is something very touching about the poem when you realize that Brooke’s “If I should die…” came so soon to pass, and that this poem is inscribed on his grave on Skyros.

A. E. Housman – “The Chestnut Casts His Flambeaux”, “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”

I had a longish break in writing these posts caused by my being overworked and then taking a short trip to mitigate the effects of the overwork. But it worked out for the best because in the meantime the chestnuts have finally bloomed (a bit later this year) and so I have the proper inspiration. The poem comes from the second volume of Housman’s poetry and the last one he published in his lifetime. Apparently he compiled the collection in haste so that it could reach the love of his life, Moses Jackson, who was terminally ill at the time, before he died (it did). The poem is about the spring which, like the one we have been having so far in this part of the world, is rather cold, although I hope May is going to be nice at last. The nameless speaker addresses the equally nameless lad, with whom he is sitting probably at an inn, drinking beer and looking outside at the storm, tearing through the chestnut and hawthorn flowers. It’s the end of a very cold May. On one hand, it’s not a big deal – next year’s spring may be better, but then they will be at the advanced age of twenty-four, one year older. The May ruined by the bad weather becomes the emblem of all the situations when people’s hopes and plans are ruined by fate, and all they can do is sit in taverns and curse “whatever brute and blackguard made the world”. People’s lives have so little joy in them, and they end invariably in death, so it’s a real iniquity so deprive them even of such small joys as one beautiful May, but what can they do? Their only consolation is the thought that the clouds will move on the next day to persecute other people. As for the speaker, he accepts his problems stoically “bear them we can, and if we can, we must/Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale”.

Housman must have liked the figure of speech about “shouldering the sky”, because he repeated it in another verse from the collection, “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”, although perhaps if he had been in less haste, he would have noticed the repetition and done something about it. The “mercenaries” of the title are British professional soldiers who died in the Battle of Ypres, and Housman published this poem in The Times on the third anniversary of that battle, thus following in Tennyson’s footsteps. They were the ones, in Housman’s view, who held the world together, when “heaven was falling”, and earth’s foundations were moving. They defended the equilibrium of the world which God himself seemingly abandoned. Yes, they did it because it was their job and they got paid for it, but Housman seems to say, it doesn’t detract from their heroism, and can one really put a price on one’s death?

And thus ends my encounter with Housman’s beautiful though heartbreaking poetry. Tomorrow I am starting to read the section on WWI, which I am not exactly looking forward to.

A. E. Housman – “Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff”

In “Terence”, written in brisk tetrameter couplets, Housman adopts a persona of somebody who is seemingly a village musician, yet seems a bit too sophisticated to be quite convincing. (He intended originally to name the collection of poems in which this poem appeared The Poems of Terence Hearsay, so Terence is clearly a stand-in for himself.) One has a feeling it’s a game he plays with his other educated friends, in which they all pretend to be country folk. But then, if his dominant mode is pastoral, the classical pastoral is all about urbane types longing to be simple shepherds, so it makes sense.

Anyway! Terence’s friends complain that his rhyming is too sad, especially since he seems to be all right and has good appetite. They ask him to play them a merry tune. Terence answers, if cheerfulness is all you are looking for, you can find it in beer. “Malt does more than Milton can/To justify God’s way to men.” But alcohol-induced cheerfulness is transitory, as Terence has a good reason to know: as he was walking home from Ludlow fair, he felt very satisfied with the world and himself, but when he woke up in a ditch, the world and himself were as usual, and what is worse, his clothes were wet. He sees his poetry as something that prepares people for misfortune, and he tells the story of the ancient king Mithridates, who, according to Pliny, made himself immune to all poisons by eating them himself, starting with small doses and then steadily upping the dose. So when his enemies tried to poison him, he could eat a dish laced with strychnine or arsenic without any ill effect. (In real life it doesn’t work and don’t try that at home.) He lived unto an old age. So Housman/Terence sees the sadness of his poems as preparing his readers for real misfortunes of life, although he surely knew Mithridates’ story wasn’t true? And I know it’s meant to work as a metaphor, but what if the story behind the metaphor isn’t true? On the other hand, everybody repeats the metaphor about the frog being boiled alive by starting with putting it in cold water, which isn’t true, either.