The facts of Housman’s life are simple enough. After taking a poor degree in Classics at St John’s College, Oxford (1882), he spent ten years (1882 to 1892) working as a civil servant in Her Majesty’s Patent Office. During this time a series of brilliant papers established him as an outstanding Classical scholar and in 1892 he was appointed Professor of Greek and Latin at University College, London. In 1911 he became Kennedy Professor of Latin at Cambridge University where, as a Fellow of Trinity College, he remained for the rest of his life. He died on 30 April 1936, famous both as a Classical scholar (particularly for his work on the poet Manilius) and as the author of A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems (1922). A third volume, More Poems, was garnered from his manuscripts and published posthumously in 1936.
That Housman’s poems are singularly apt for music is beyond question. Influenced by the powerful simplicities of Shakespeare’s songs, the clear, precise forms of the Border Ballads, and the melancholy irony of Heinrich Heine’s lyrics, they combine deeply-felt emotions with a classical elegance and simplicity of form and language. They are short and to the point; and, though subtle, the thought-patterns are never so impacted as to make it difficult for music to function at its own level. Next to Shakespeare and Robert Herrick they are one of the greatest gifts an English poet ever made to English composers. (A Shropshire Lad is recorded complete – in verse and song – on; musical settings are by Butterworth, Orr, Ireland, Moeran, Horder, Berkeley and Barber.)
from notes by Michael Hurd © 1990