This poem is featured in A Shropshire Lad, a collection of sixty-three poems, published in 1896. The collection was popular among young readers, as it portrayed pessimism and preoccupation with death. ‘Bredon Hill’, particularly, depicts the consciousness of an entire generation that went to war and experienced great losses.
‘Bredon Hill’ has seven stanzas and an ABCBB rhyme scheme. ‘Bredon Hill’ is poem number twenty-one in A Shropshire Lad and it narrates the story of a lover who lost a loved one. Thus, the main theme of the poem is lost love, as it is dramatized through the symbolic sounds of the church bells.
Explore Bredon Hill
‘Bredon Hill’ by A.E. Housman presents a heartwarming picture of two lovers who live near Bredon, a small village in Worcestershire, England. The association of the “church bell” in the poem, injects the emotion of love into it. It connects two souls by ringing at a specific time of a day. When the bell rings from the nearby steeples, the lovers meet at Bredon Hill without going to church to pray. They spend a happy time together lying under the blue sky. But the moments filled with pleasure and love does not last very long. Her lady love dies on one wintry night of Christmas. With pain in the heart, the poet moves on. Now, when the church bell rings, it reminds him of those happy moments with his beloved.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘Bredon Hill’ by A.E. Housman consists of seven stanzas. Each stanza contains five lines. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCBB. This scheme runs throughout each stanza of the poem. This poem is a lyric, presenting the joys and griefs of a lover. Here the lover is none other than the poet himself. Apart from that, there is a rhyme-like symmetry in the lyric’s structure.
After scanning the poem metrically, it can be said that the poem is in iambic trimeter. There are three feet in each line having the rising rhythm. The short but compact lines make the reading journey smooth and rhythmic. There is a variation in the poem occurring in the lines having 7 syllables. At the end of those lines, a hypermetrical foot is present. It is generally an imperfect foot with an unstressed syllable. The rising rhythm of the poem is significant to the overall theme of the poem. After reading the first few stanzas and the poem’s optimistic ending, the sound pattern becomes relevant to the theme.
In ‘Bredon Hill’ A.E. Housman uses different literary devices to make the poem appealing to the readers. Likewise, in the first stanza, the poet uses a personal metaphor in “happy noise”. It is also a kind of personification. In the following stanza, there is enjambment in the last two lines. The poet uses anaphora in the third and fourth lines of this stanza. There is a personification in the line, “The bells would ring to call her”. In the lines, “Come all to church, good people;/ Good people come and pray”, the last two words, “good people” of the previous line get repeated at the beginning of the following. It is an epanastrophe. The phrase, “springing thyme” is an example of metonymy.
There is a similarity in the usage of anaphora in this poem. In most of the cases, only the line having “and” at its beginning is followed by the next line having the same word in front of it. Apart from that, there is hyperbaton in the line, “Groom there was none to see”. In the last stanza, the poet personifies the “steeple” and invests it with the idea of humming. Here another poetic device is hidden. It is an onomatopoeia. The poet concludes the poem by using an apostrophe.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.
The first stanza sets the scene. The lyrical voice starts ‘Bredon Hill’ by describing the sound of the church bells. During the summer (“In summertime on Bredon”), the bells are a recurrent sound. They can be heard clearly (“they sound so clear”) as their sounds can be listened all over the village of Bredon. These bells can also be heard in the surrounding towns: “Round both the shires they ring them”. The lyrical voice seems to like the sound of these bells very much, as he refers to them as “A happy noise to hear”.
Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.
The second stanza talks about a particular situation. The lyrical voice places himself in the summer scene, as he states that “Here of a Sunday morning/My love and I would lie”. The lyrical voice depicts how he and his loved one would lay down on a hill and watch other villages (“And see the coloured counties”). Moreover, the lovers hear the birds as they fly over their heads (“And hear the larks so high/About us in the sky”). This particular stanza portrays two lovers enjoying the summer environment, and, particularly, how the lyrical voice is very fond of these memories. Notice the summer imagery and how this affects the meeting of the lovers positively.
The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away;
“Come all to church, good people;
Good people come and pray.”
But here my love would stay.
The third stanza furthers on the church bells. The lyrical voice mentions that the church bells called his loved one, no matter where she was (“The bells would ring to call her/In valleys miles away”). The bells are personified, as the stanza narrates what the lyrical voice thinks that the sound of the bells mean (“Come all to church, good people;/Good people come and pray”). Nevertheless, despite the calling of the bells and the church, the lyrical voice says that his loved one remained with him in the hill (“But here my love would stay”). The ending of this stanza refers to the previous one, as the loved one stays with the lyrical voice.
And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
“Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.”
The fourth stanza of ‘Bredon Hill’ continues with the narration of the previous one. The lyrical voice talks about himself and how he would respond to the church bells (“And I would turn and answer/Among the springing thyme”). The lyrical voice expresses this by using direct speech and recreating his words in that particular moment. He talks to the church bells and says that he and his lover will respond to their sound when they call for their wedding and they will “come to church in time”. In the meantime, the lyrical voice expresses that he prefers to spend his time with his loved one rather than responding to the church bells call. Notice that the direct speech in this stanza replies to that of the previous stanza. This fourth stanza serves a direct continuation of the previous one, as it furthers and closes that particular situation.
But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.
The fifth stanza moves further in time and refers to winter. The cheerful summertime has ended and now the lyrical voice positions the narrative in the winter (“But when the snows at Christmas”). The lyrical voice mentions the hill, but instead of talking about happy memories he says that his loved one died (“And stole out unbeknown/And went to church alone”). In this particular stanza, there are a lot more figurative and dramatic images than in the previous one. Notice how the snows of winter covered the hills, but with grief, rather than joy. Also, this stanza presents a contrast with the previous one, as the lyrical voice goes to the church to attend his loved one’s funeral (rather than their wedding that he previously mentioned). Moreover, notice how her death is described, as abrupt and unfair (“rose up so early […] stole out”).
They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.
The sixth stanza continues with the scene of the previous one. The lyrical voice furthers on the funeral and mentions a solitary bell (“They tolled the one bell only”) that mourns for the loved one. Once again, the lyrical voice compares the situation of the funeral with that of the wedding (“Groom there was none to see”). People attend to the funeral (“The mourners followed after”) and, most importantly, the loved one goes to the church (“And so to church went she”). Nevertheless, she dies alone and leaves the lyrical voice on earth so that he says that she “would not wait”. The church bells aren’t happy, as the ones mentioned in the previous stanzas. The bells mourn the lost loved one and the lyrical voice doesn’t go to the church as a groom as he wished before but as a mourner. This sequence represents the grief and the sadness of losing a loved one. Moreover, the church bells function as an element that connects both the good and bad memories, showing the transition between the good times and the bad times.
The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum,
“Come all to church, good people,” —
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.
The final stanza of ‘Bredon Hill’ closes the narration. The lyrical voice talks about the church bells again and how they are heard all over the village of Bredon (“The bells they sound on Bredon”). The church bells are still calling him and everyone in the village: “Come all to church, good people”. Nevertheless, the lyrical voice doesn’t take this in the same way as before. Now, the church bells seem “noisy” and “dumb”. The bells serve the lyrical voice as a reminder not to forget his loved one and to think of the possibility of reuniting. The poem has a circular structure, and it begins and ends with the church bells. The lyrical voice is cheerful and happy at the beginning, but, by the end of the poem, the poem’s tone shifts, as the lyrical voice mourns the loss of a loved one. Notice, once again, that the church bells function as an element that unifies the poem and the actions that take place in the poem. The bells remain the same, but the lyrical voice experiences several things that make him change his perception of the bells, especially the good memories attached to them.
About Alfred Edward Housman
Alfred Edward Housman was born in 1859 and died in 1936. He was an English classical scholar and a poet. Housman’s most recognized work is A Shropshire Lad, a cycle of poems that evoke the dooms and disappointment of the English countryside. The poems in A Shropshire Lad had a lyric and epigrammatic form with beautiful, simple, and distinctive imagery. A. E Housman is known for his notable language, particular images, and his success in evoking the feeling of the English countryside.
A. E. Housman was one of the most important classical scholars of his age and his editions of Juvenal, Manilius, and Lucan are still widely used around the world. He started as a private scholar and, later, he taught Latin at University College London. Then, Housman also taught Latin in Cambridge University.