‘A.E. Housman’s Last Poem.’
The original manuscript of this poem was found during recent alterations to St. James Church and was, at first, attributed to Housman and to have been written round about 1900, shortly before his death and after his one and only visit to Cardington.
However it contains several glaring anachronisms. The ‘Right to roam Law’ and the reference to a ‘Lady Vicar’ spring immediately to mind. We like to think that these were brilliant predictions by the poet. Verse four contains material very similar to that produced by Flanders and Swan in the mid-Twentieth Century – but who did the plagiarising!
The controversy continues……In view of the present litigious atmosphere, We would advise anybody who reads or publishes this poem to apologise to the Housman estate, to Flanders and Swan, to those who feel they have been disparaged and especially to anybody, who, over the years, has rung number three or four in the Cardington bell tower. ---Remember, - you did not yet exist when the poem was written.—
In Cardington the morning light
Gleams upon the Church clock bright.
It nestles in the hills, so old,
Like a flock within it’s fold.
Ramblers come to visit here,
Dressed in brightly coloured gear.
They come to visit Church and pub
And eat in there the famous grub.
Ramblus Vulgaris Varigatus, they
Are known in scientific sway.
The ‘Right to roam’ is now the law,
Farmers, can you suffer more?!
In Cardington, the sweet spring showers
Go on and on for hours and hours.
In summer-time, the sun is hot-
Is it shining? - No it’s not!
A lady vicar now presides.
In Hopeful Bowdler she resides.
Her four old Churches she does serve.
How does she produce such verve?
From Cardington the bells ring forth
O’er Corve and further to the north.
Is it number three or four
Could do to watch their Rope-sight more?
They oft compete with Stanton Lacey;
But then their ringing’s rather racy.
Sweeter they ring than Stanton Long
Where there’s a bell that just goes ‘Bong’.
The village folk have strength and grit,
They fight among themselves a bit.
On broader matters they agree
And ask each other round for tea.
The Organist’s a stalwart bloke’
Many organs he has broke.
His latest victim’s over yon,
In St. James’s Cardington.
A potter here resides, they say,
It would be bland to say she’s fay.
If you say the code-word ‘Min’
You may be asked around for gin!
Tiles there are that have some fame.
Their instigator’s name’s a pain.
Again, his name I will not tell;
In case his bearded head should swell!
A poet and a gardener neat
Dwell in a toft just down the street.
Poetry’s her metiere -
So good - her rivals just despair.
An artist here paints many hues.
He daubs the walls at village do’s.
His fame upon an anchor rode,
Prefixed by a naval code.
The Reaper Grim we cannot stall.
In the end he’ll take us all;
Clive and Jackie, Chris and Pam
And even charming Marianne.
Roly, Michael, David, Rita,
Richard, Christine, Liz and Peter.
Will they all to Heaven go?
Don’t ask me! I just don’t know.
Even those who’s sins are great
Can hope to pass through Heaven’s gate.
Most of these I must not name,
‘Cept David, Ippy, Jonny, Jane.
The Blenkins’ hens are roosting now.
The owl he hoots upon the bough.
These folk, I fear are now long gone,
But, rest they yet in Cardington?
Further notes on the Poem.
Produced after extensive research into Parish records and Electoral registers etc.
The first couplet in verse 1. almost certainly refers to a fine Daguerreotype, taken in low fog conditions with the morning sun glinting on the East facing church clock face, by a local character known as George. His surname has been lost, but is said (after interviews with several geriatric members of the parish) to resemble a famous sauce (Branston Pickle??). I gather that a copy of this still hangs in The Royal Oak (the famous Cardington Pub – and the oldest licence in Shropshire). Worth a visit!
Verses 2 and 3 refer to the popularity of walking at the turn of the Century and to the garish colours of the clothes worn by walkers at the time (perhaps so that they could be seen if they fell over and required rescue.).
Verse 6, I feel, is pure poetic licence. Cardington Bells certainly could not be heard in Corve Dale (the other side of Wenlock Edge): but the name Ape Dale – which Cardington overlooks does not have any poetic ring so was rejected by the poet. Also, the bells definitely could not be heard further north than Yell (Yeld) Bank (about half a mile away.). The second couplet of this verse, of course, should not be taken seriously!
Verse 7 refers to the annual bell striking competition held in the area. According to existing records, the bell ringers from Stanton Long seem to have been winners of this since records began (Rather like the Australian cricket team!).
Verses 9 to 13 are rather cryptic and required extensive research.
All the people referred to in them have acquired some posthumous fame. Verses 10 to 12 contain very un-Housman like puns and these have been a major ‘bone of contention’ concerning the authenticity of the work.
Verse 9. It is well authenticated that the organist at the time, a certain John Shepherd was playing an “all stops out” version of Jerusalem with the Congregation in full voice when the organ ‘packed up’ letting out an ear-splitting moan that descended several octaves before John managed to switch the instrument off.
Verse 10. This refers to a teacher, artist, gardener, potter, poacher and pundit called Min Bland. Her generosity is legendary and it is said that after the closure of the ‘New Inn’ (close by) she ‘watered’ most of the drunken lay-abouts of the parish.
Verse 11. This sounds derogatory (perhaps because of the word pain.). We are sure that the poet did not mean it to be so. It is very well documented that Bryan Paine, a local teacher, put an enormous amount of work and effort into co-ordinating a marvellous Tile Mural depicting the Village and Parish. Apart from himself, this involved the work of over a hundred members of the Parish. The Mural is displayed in all its glory in St. James Church.
Bryan’s other ceramic creations are now, we believe, becoming collectable.
Verse 12. This refers to Tim and Anthea Toft. They were well known in the Parish: He as a keen gardener and she as an excellent and sympathetic poet. Their chief claim to fame is, however, years of dedicated work helping handicapped children.
Verse 13. We think that this verse should have no nomination*. The meaning of the second couplet will become obvious with a little thought.
Verses 14 to 16. These contain many Christian names and we think all of them were alive in the Parish at the time. Intensive research still continues to confirm their Surnames and dwelling places. We do, however, have much information on the four named in verse 16. They were apparently ‘thorns in the side’ of the pretentious*.
The Last Verse. This lapses into sentimentality and does not ‘fit in’ with rest of the poem. We now think it was written at a much later date by somebody unknown who felt that the work needed ‘rounding off’.
*Serious Students who wish to know more detail concerning these points should apply to the CPRG secretary with at least three references. We will require a suitable donation to cover the cost of the research.
“If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research”. – Wilson Mizner 1876-1933.
Cardington Poetry Research Group. –March 2003
Secretary - anonymous