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A. E. Housman's "In summertime on Bredon"

Updated on December 5, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

A. E. Housman

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "XXI. In summertime on Bredon"

Bredon Hill is located in Worcestershire, England, where the poet A. E. Housman was born. Housman's "In summertime on Bredon," poem number 21 (XXI) from A Shropshire Lad, features a sad story about a lover who lost his sweetheart.

The poem consists of seven stanzas, each with the rime scheme, ABCBB. The theme of lost love is dramatized through the symbolic sound of church bells.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

XXI. In summertime on Bredon

In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
‘Come all to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray.’
But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
‘Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.’

But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum.
‘Come all to church, good people,’—
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.

Hume Cronyn recites Housman's "Bredon Hill"

Commentary

First Stanza: The Sound of Church Bells

In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.

In the first stanza, the speaker begins his narrative by announcing that during summer one can clearly hear the bells as they sound out from the village of Bredon. The speaker then reports that on a Sunday morning from this location one can hear the beautiful chiming of bells emanating from churches that are located not only in Bredon but the surrounding, neighboring counties.

The speaker is very fond of the ringing of those bells. He find it to be a "happy noise." And he is genuinely delighted with the feeling that that happy sound engenders in him.

Second Stanza: Two Lovers Enjoying the Environment

Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.

The speaker adds to the scene by placing himself and his "love" within it. The two lovers would climb the hill, from where they could view the neighboring counties, whose colors shone brightly with their fields growing in the summer sun.

In addition to the church bell, the couple could also hear the sound of birds as they soared high in the sky far above them. The speaker is describing a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning.

Third Stanza: Calling Good People to Come Worship

The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
‘Come all to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray.’
But here my love would stay.

The speaker reports that the church bell seemed to be calling him and his sweetheart and all "good people" to come and attend service, "come and pray." But his sweetheart preferred to remain with him on Bredon Hill.

Fourth Stanza: Anticipating Wedding Bells

And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
‘Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.’

The speaker then addresses the church bells telling them that when they ring for the couple's wedding, they will "come to church in time." He is implying that until then they will prefer to spend their time together enjoying the company of each other, while they happily listen to the bells from afar.

Fifth Stanza: And Then There Was a Funeral

But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.

The cheerful times of summer give way to winter sorrow. The man's sweetheart "stole out unbeknown / And went to church alone." At an early age, the young woman suddenly dies, and instead of attending her wedding, others will be attending her funeral. When the "snows at Christmas" covered Bredon Hill, grief blanketed the heart of the speaker.

Sixth Stanza: The Tolling of a Solitary Bell

They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.

Instead of the merry bells that the couple had enjoyed during the summer, only "one bell" now tolls for the departed lover. He would not be attending a church service as a groom but as a mourner along with the other mourners.

Seventh Stanza: Worshiping Alone

The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum.
‘Come all to church, good people,’—
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.

Sometime after the death and burial of his sweetheart, the speaker still hears "steeples hum" as "the bells [ ] sound on Bredon." The bells still announce their summons for all "good people" to come to service.

But instead of the happy tone that filled the speaker when he heard them with his sweetheart, they merely sound like "noisy bells" to him now, and he bids them "be dumb." But he, nevertheless, accepts their reminder and determines that he will go to church, for now he has no companion, save the Divine, with whom to enjoy the bell sounds.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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