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A. E. Housman’s ‘Level Tones’

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A. E. Housman was the favourite poet of the late Kingsley Amis,1 who paid apt tribute in a poem:

A. E. H.

Flame the westward skies adorning Leaves no like on holt or hill; Sounds of battle joined at morning Wane and wander and are still.

Past the standards rent and muddied, Past the careless heaps of slain, Stalks a redcoat who, unbloodied, Weeps with fury, not from pain.

Wounded lads, when to renew them Death and surgeons cross the shade, Still their cries, hug darkness to them; All at last in sleep are laid.

All save one, who nightlong curses Wounds imagined more than seen, Who in level tones rehearses What the fact of wounds must mean.2


  • Level Tone
  • Critical Essay
  • Paradise Lost
  • Plain Statement
  • Bryn Mawr College

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  1. Kingsley Amis, Memoirs (London: Hutchinson, 1991) pp. 28, 58.

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  2. Kingsley Amis, Collected Poems 1944–1979 (London: Hutchinson, 1979) p. 98.

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  3. To J. W. Mackail, 25 July 1922: The Letters of A. E. Housman ed. Henry Maas (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1971) p. 200. In a letter of 18 December 1925 to Robert Bridges, he expressed pleasure at Bridges using ‘the old and beautiful stanza, now unjustly despised because so often ill managed… which ought not to be left to Laura Matilda’: Letters p. 231. ’Laura Matilda’ was the pseudonym of Horace and James Smith when they used the stanza for ’Drurÿ s Dirge’ in their Rejected Addresses (1812). For further information on ’Laura Matilda’, see D. M. Low and George De Fraine, Notes and Queries 197 (1952) 547–8, and R. L. Moreton, ibid. p. 569.

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  4. Laurence Housman, A. E. H. (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937) p. 212.

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  5. See William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (London: Chatto and Windus, 1935; rptd 1986) pp. 22, 53.

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© 2000 Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited

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Burnett, A. (2000). A. E. Housman’s ‘Level Tones’. In: Holden, A.W., Birch, J.R. (eds) A. E. Housman. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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