The poem uses easy to understand language and directs itself towards the purpose of writing verse. It might be sad and might deal with tough subjects, but it hopefully brings comfort to those who need it. Housman intends his poems to be read by those who are in “trouble.” ‘They Say My Verse is Sad’ makes it clear that his poems are written for himself.
They Say My Verse is Sad A.E. Housman They say my verse is sad: no wonder. Its narrow measure spans Rue for eternity, and sorrow Not mine, but man's This is for all ill-treated fellows Unborn and unbegot, For them to read when they're in trouble And I am not.
Explore They Say My Verse is Sad
‘They Say My Verse is Sad’ by A.E. Housman is a short poem about the poet’s understanding of his own writing.
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker, Housman, begins by noting that others believe his verse is sad. He knows why, as it does its best to contend with universal themes important to all of humanity. It has a limited scope, though, something that adds to the general sadness of the endeavor. Despite this, he still writes for others. He isn’t writing for himself. He doesn’t take comfort in his own poetry. It’s for those who are in more trouble than he is.
Structure and Form
‘They Say My Verse is Sad’ by A.E. Housman is a two-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, or quatrains. These quatrains follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The lines follow a loose metrical pattern. The first line of both stanzas contains nine syllables, the second: six, and the fourth: four. The third line of the first stanza is nine syllables long and the third line of the second stanza is eight syllables.
Throughout this piece, the poet engages with several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “mine” and “mans” in line four of the first stanza.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza and lines one and two of the second stanza.
- Repetition: occurs when the poet repeats the same word, phrase, image, structure, or other poetic element. In this case, the poet repeats the same sounds with “Unborn” and “unbent” in stanza two and the structure and words used in line four of the first stanza with “Not mine, but man’s” is also a good example.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example: “Tears of eternity, and sorrow, / Not mine, but man’s.”
They say my verse is sad: no wonder;
Its narrow measure spans
Tears of eternity, and sorrow,
Not mine, but man’s.
In the first stanza of ‘They Say My Verse is Sad,’ the speaker begins with the phrase that later came to be used as the title. He knows his verse is sad and adds onto this that it’s no wonder that people think so. It contends with enormous topics, like “Tears of eternity and sorrow.” He attempts to write on “man’s” experience, not just his own. But, his poetry has a “narrow measure.” It can only accomplish so much. So, in addition to touching on saddening and thought-provoking topics, it’s not broad enough to do them justice.
This is for all ill-treated fellows
Unborn and unbegot,
For them to read when they’re in trouble
And I am not.
In the second stanza, the speaker notes that “This,” or his poetry, is “for all ill-treated fellows / Unborn and unbegot.” He writes for those who are passed over by luck and all manner of good fortune. These “fellows” need his verse in a deep way (or at least he hopes). It may provide them with some solace when “they’re in trouble.”
The poem concludes with the speaker again returning to the idea that his verse is not for him or for when he’s in trouble but for when others are. The simple lines of this poem are easy to read and understand.
The tone is descriptive and understanding. The speaker, who is commonly considered to be the poet himself, acknowledges the nature of his verse and attempts to outline his intentions with it. He understands the world and its need for poetry.
The purpose is to describe why the poet writes and who he writes for. It’s not for himself or for a single “man.” It’s for all of humanity and all of those who are suffering or are in trouble.
The themes in this poem are writing and humanity. The poet uses his writing to connect with and comfort his readers. He pens his verse, which often deals with a broad idea of existence and the purpose of life, in order to bring comfort to those in trouble.
The speaker is A.E. Housman himself. He spends the lines of his verse describing why he writes and who he writes for.
Readers who enjoyed ‘They Say My Verse is Sad’ should also consider reading some other A.E. Housman poems. For example:
- ‘Loveliest of Trees’ – describes the joy a speaker takes from blooming cherry blossom trees.
- ‘Oh, Who is That Young Sinner’ – an important poem that addresses the fear and hatred of homosexuality in England in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
- ‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’ – a story of two brothers and how one of them accidentally met his end in a wheat field.