August 5 A E Housman

Since the World War of 1914-1918 the idea has spread that patriotism, Whether felt for one’s own country or for another, is not enough. A.E.Housman, 1859-1936, sardonically sees human valour as a salable commodity; yet even so it remains admirable. The economy of this poem is modelled on the epitaphs of the Praise Singers of ancient Greece, such as Simonides.

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries.

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.