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Songs

Songs

On Wenlock Edge (1909)


Part of a series or song cycle:

On Wenlock Edge


On Wenlock Edge

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.
T’would blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood;
‘Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.
Then, ‘twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare;
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.
There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet;
Then ‘twas the Roman, now ‘tis I.
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, ‘twill soon be gone:
Today the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

Composer

Ralph Vaughan Williams was an English composer. Over sixty years, he composed operas, ballets, chamber music, vocal pieces and orchestral compositions. He was strongly influenced by Tudor music and English folk-song.

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Poet

Alfred Edward Housman (/26 March 1859 – 30 April 1936), usually known as A. E. Housman, was an English classical scholar and poet, best known to the general public for his cycle of poems A Shropshire Lad. Lyrical and almost epigrammatic in form, the poems wistfully evoke the dooms and disappointments of youth in the English countryside. Their beauty, simplicity and distinctive imagery appealed strongly to Edwardian taste, and to many early 20th-century English composers both before and after the First World War. Through their song-settings, the poems became closely associated with that era, and with Shropshire itself.

Housman's poetry, especially A Shropshire Lad, was set to music by many British, and in particular English, composers in the first half of the 20th century.[ The national, pastoral and traditional elements of his style resonated with similar trends in English music. In 1904 the cycle A Shropshire Lad was set by Arthur Somervell, who had begun to develop the concept of the English song-cycle in his version of Tennyson's Maud a little previously. Ralph Vaughan Williams produced his well-known settings of six songs, the cycle On Wenlock Edge, for string quartet, tenor and piano in 1909. Between 1909 and 1911 George Butterworth produced settings in two collections, Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad and Bredon Hill and Other Songs. He also wrote the orchestral tone poem A Shropshire Lad, first performed at LeedsFestival in 1912.

Ivor Gurney also made renowned settings of Housman's poems. Towards the end of World War 1 he was working on his cycle Ludlow and Teme, for voice and string quartet (published in 1919), and went on to compose the eight-song cycle The Western Playland in 1921. One more who set Housman songs at this period was John Ireland in the song cycle, The Land of Lost Content (1920–21). Even composers not directly associated with the 'pastoral' tradition, such as Arnold Bax, Lennox Berkeley and Arthur Bliss, were attracted to Housman's poetry. 

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