I wasn’t particularly planning to do any more Housman settings, but this one suddenly demanded my attention. It does require more work – some guitar, at least – but I think the melody is mostly there. And if you’re going to set Housman, I suppose you have to consider the ‘Land of lost content’. And having (half) done this one, there are two or three more I think I’d still like to put music to. We’ll see.
‘A Shropshire Lad’ XL
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
I’ve posted a guitar-accompanied version of Tennyson’s poem before, but it suddenly occurred to me in the middle of the night that it might sound nice with a free-reed accompaniment. Since I don’t play concertina etc., I had to fake it with a Yamaha keyboard.
The Inclosure Acts enabled the passing into private hands land that had previously been designated as either ‘common’ or ‘waste’. This process preceded by several centuries the formal Inclosure Acts (which began with an Act of 1604) and continued into the 20th century, resulting in the enclosure of nearly seven million acres. While enclosure facilitated more efficient agricultural methods, that increased efficiency and loss of communal land was a factor in the enforced move of so many agricultural labourers into towns. There are a number of variations of this poem, which is usually assumed to date from the 1750s or ’60s, when enclosure legislation started to accelerate dramatically. The tune here is mine: I haven’t yet learned it properly, so not a polished performance, but better than the previously published version, with some tentative harmonies on the repeat of the last line (which is not in the original text). 🙂
This is the second demo version: still rough, but now with some basic guitar. Relates to Shropshire rather than Cornwall: you can take the boy out of Shropshire, but you can’t take Shropshire….
I came across this set of words in a discussion on the Memories of Shropshire Facebook group, and somehow found myself putting a tune to it as I read. This version of the tune is one of my ‘make it up as you go along’ recordings: it may well change significantly over time, and is not in any case consistent between all the verses.
By W.B.H. and apparently dated 29th May 1786, though that may have referred to the wedding that took place on that date rather than the date of printing. It seems that the modern Arbor Day celebration is held on the last Sunday in May rather than strictly on the 29th. The Aston Clun celebration is closely linked with Oak Apple Day as well as with the wedding of 1786. I don’t know exactly when this was published, but the somewhat random initcapping and the use of a ‘thin space’ before colons and question marks is characteristic of an earlier school of typography, perhaps as far back as the late 18th century.
In Aston Clun I stand, a tree,
A Poplar dressed, like a ship at sea.
Lonely link with an age long past :
Of Arbor Trees, I am the last.
Since seventeen-eighty-six, My Day
Is writ, the twenty 9th of May.
When new flags fly and we rejoice,
New life has stilled harsh Winter’s voice.
To greet a Squire’s lovely bride
Did tenants dress my boughs with pride ?
But Old Wives say, my flags are worn
To mark the day an heir was born.
Wise men, mellow o’er evening ale,
Old feuds and wicked deeds retail.
Thanksgiving dressed my arms, they say
For Peace, when blood feuds died away.
Did here ! my father mark the rite
Of Shepherd’s, gone with world’s first light ?
Was England merrie neath his shade
Till crop-Haired Cromwell joy forbade ?
In sixteen-sixty with the Spring
Came Merry Charles the exiled king.
Did he proclaim May twenty-nine
“Arbor Day” for revelry and wine ?
And Shepherds, plagued with pox and chills
Turn to the old ways of the hills,
To “Mystic Poplar”, to renew
Fertility in field and ewe ?
Stand I, for Ancient ways, for Birth,
For Love, for Peace, for Joy and Mirth?
Riddle my riddle as you will
I stand for good and not for ill.
And if my dress your fancy please
Help my flags to ride the breeze
That you with me, will in the Sun,
Welcome all, to the Vale of Clun.
A Research Article from April, 2003, by John Box gives some very useful information. It’s available from a number of places including here.
Here’s the Abstract:
The custom of dressing the black poplar growing in Aston-on-Clun in south Shropshire – known as the Arbor Tree – with flags on flagpoles every 29 May is unique in Britain. New flags are attached to wooden flagpoles on the tree that remain throughout the year. Written records of the Arbor Tree only extend back to 1898, but the tradition of dressing the tree is reputed to date back to a local wedding in 1786. The article attempts to establish the history and context of the tradition and shows how the custom has developed and acquired new meanings, particularly since 1955 when a pageant was devised. The pageant and the celebrations associated with the tree dressing are evolving in response to those living in the local community as well as to the external recognition now accorded to this unique tradition.