‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’ by A.E. Housman is a narrative poem that tells the story of a man who killed his brother in a wheat field.
In the first lines, the speaker tells his listener, Terence, that he has to leave. He’s going away because, as the second stanza drastically reveals, he killed his brother Maurice. The next stanzas don’t provide a reason for this action, but do mediate on the present and future. Housman’s speaker is leaving behind his mother, the farm and everything on it. He knows his life is never going to be the same again.
Poetic Techniques in Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree
‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’ by A.E. Housman is a six stanza poem that is separated into sets of four-line, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple, yet impactful pattern of ABAB CDCD, and so on, changing end sounds as Housman saw fit.
Housman makes use of several other techniques in ‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’. These include anaphora, alliteration, enjambment, and juxtaposition. The latter is when two contrasting things are placed near one another in order to emphasize that contrast. A poet usually does this in order to emphasize a larger theme of their text or make an important point about the differences between these two things. In the case of ‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’, it can be seen in the second stanza when the seemingly pastoral landscape is contrasted with the dead man.
Anaphora, Alliteration and Enjambment in Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree
There are also examples of anaphora in the text. This is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. For example, the use of “Farewell” twice in the first stanza and “And long” in the sixth. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. Examples include “Severn shore” and “half-mown hill”.
Another important technique that is commonly used in poetry is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. A very successful and impactful use of enjambment comes in the transition between the third and fourth lines of the second stanza when the reader finds out that the speaker killed his brother Maurice.
Analysis of Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree
“Farewell to barn and stack and tree,
Farewell to Severn shore.
Terence, look your last at me,
For I come home no more.
In the first lines of ‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’ the speaker begins by utilizing the line that later became the title. He bids farewell to a barn, a “stack,” meaning a conical pile of hay (aka a haystack), and a tree. These are specific images associated with a specific place, the “Severn shore”. The Severn is the largest river in the UK along which many of the most populated cities are situated. This line is also an example of alliteration with the repetition of words beginning with “s”.
In the third line, the speaker addresses one of his intended listeners, someone named “Terence”. He asks this person to take a look at him as he’s never going to come home after this moment. As the first stanza in ‘‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’ these lines do their job well. There is a great deal of mystery imbued in them, simply because a reader has no idea who the characters are or what is driving the speaker away. Is he leaving willingly? Is someone forcing him? The way the lines are phrased makes it seem as if he’s sorry to leave, but this is the only hint Housemen presents the reader with so far.
“The sun burns on the half-mown hill,
By now the blood is dried;
And Maurice amongst the hay lies still
And my knife is in his side.
In the second stanza of ‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’ the speaker goes on. He informs the reader very quickly and emotionlessly that someone has died. A man named “Maurice” is amongst the hay. He “lies still”. If this isn’t bad enough, the speaker admits that his “knife is in his side”.
Without a doubt, this is the reason the speaker is feeling. He’s killed this man, for unknown reasons, and must, due to the pursuit of the law, leave his home.
The first two lines of this stanza are shocking. They contrast the warmth, heat and colour of the sun, to that of the “half-mown hill” and the dried blood.
“My mother thinks us long away;
‘Tis time the field were mown.
She had two sons at rising day,
To-night she’ll be alone.
The third stanza of ‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’ continues the speaker’s tale. He describes his mother and her perception of the day. With these details the speaker’s crime becomes even more dramatic. It turns out that Maurice was his brother. His mother is going to be expecting her two sons to come home “To-night” but instead “she’ll be alone”. The speaker appears to be well aware of the consequences of his actions.
Juxtaposition is used again in these lines as the speaker recalls how the two were meant to mow the lawn but instead, the day ended in murder and loss.
“And here’s a bloody hand to shake,
And oh, man, here’s good-bye;
We’ll sweat no more on scythe and rake,
My bloody hands and I.
The story continues into the fourth stanza. The speaker looks at his hand, holds it out for his friend, and says “here’s a bloody hand to shake”. Whether it is covered in blood or not, it drew blood and like Macbeth, is stained with the act.
Finally, in the second line, it appears the speaker is getting emotional, or at least a little distressed about his situation. He moves through his words unevenly, saying “And oh, man, here’s good-bye”. It is sinking in that he really has to leave, it’s the end.
From a goodbye to his listener, he says goodbye to the life he had before. His “bloody hands” are no longer going to “sweat…on scythe and rake” together. His life is about to change dramatically.
In the fifth stanza of Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree,’ he speaks to the listener, Terence, telling them that he wishes him well. He hopes this other man will find “a love to keep you clean”. This is likely a reference to romantic love, or perhaps a passion in life, to keep him out of trouble. Obviously, the speaker did not have this feature in his life to keep him clean. The use of the word “clean” in this line should be noted. He would like his hands to be clean, but they’re bloody. There’s nothing he can do to wipe away his deed now.
It’s clear the speaker wants nothing but a positive future for his friend. But in wishing him so, he is contrasting his own painful future with a happy and prosperous one. In the third line he references “Lammastide”. Lammastide is a holiday celebrated on August 1st to mark the wheat harvest.
“Long for me the rick will wait,
And long will wait the fold,
And long will stand the empty plate,
Dinner will be cold.”
In the last four lines of ‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree,’ the speaker tells the listener that the “rick” or stack of hay is going to wait for him. It will be there in the field forever now, as his hands will never touch it again. The same can be said for the “fold,” the “empty plate” at his mother’s kitchen table and the food on that plate. It will soon “be cold”. A “fold” is a reference to a pen or enclosure in which animals are kept.