Posted by: David Harley | March 17, 2013

Settings of poems

Poem Settings

With one exception, all the settings here right now are of verses from ‘A Shropshire Lad’, by A.E. Housman. Housman can’t really be described as a Shropshire lad himself: he was born near Bromsgrove in 1859, and died in Cambridge in 1936, and it’s often said that he hadn’t actually visited the Shropshire countryside of which he presented his own vision until after he had published the collection. (Most of the poems were written while living in Highgate, London.) However, his ashes are buried near St. Lawrence’s church, Ludlow, five minutes walk from where I live at the time of writing. Although I lived for the first 19 years of my life in Shrewsbury, none of these settings was composed in Shropshire either. I was living in Berkshire at that time, though the setting to Bredon Hill was composed while I was visiting my parents in Manchester, I think.

These MP3s are unaccompanied (with one exception), and all are first-take demo versions, not studio quality. I’ll maybe come back to them properly when the size of my back-catalogue looks a little less daunting. Some day, I might even set some more of Housman’s verse. While much of his work has a somewhat depressive nature that’s often been parodied (there are a couple of good examples quoted here), many of his verse cry out to be sung.

I wouldn’t want to discourage you from reading or even buying the whole cycle, but the whole of ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is viewable from There are countless hard-copy volumes of Housman’s verse, of course, but my favourite is the 2009 edition published by Merlin Unwin with local photographs by Gareth B. Thomas (and a handful from the Shropshire Regimental Museum), an introduction by Prof. Christopher Ricks, and a brief biography of Housman by Dr. David Lloyd, a well-known name here in Ludlow.

Other Housman settings have been composed by real composers like:

Oddly enough, I’m not aware of any other folkies who’ve set any of these, but it’s unlikely that I’m the only one. :)

I’ve also set this one.

  • The Pilgrim (Yeats-Harley) The words to the original poem by W.B. Yeats are here. (Among other places!) Demo version with guitar (needs more work, but I think it’ll eventually work better than the pure unaccompanied version: pilgrim2

I also set a couple of Causley poems to music, but there may be copyright/IP issues with that. The late Alex Atterson did some excellent settings of Causley, which I believe were/are available on CD. You could try Musicstack, if you’re interested in those.

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