"Terence, This is Stupid Stuff"


Help one another analyze Housman's poem. We'll take a brief look at it Thursday to help you with your approach.

Remember: your comment is incomplete if you don't cite the text.


Kristen Day said...

where is this poem? i'm confused.

Christopher Wang said...

Sorry for the late reply!
The poem can be found on page 16 of the 11th Edition of Sound and Sense.

If you can't find it / have a different edition, you can look it up in the index.

for an online copy.

Emelia Ficken said...

So, are we actually going to analyze the poem for the blog or is this just solitary analysis until a later date, aka tomorrow?

Evan Marshall said...

Just to be safe...

In “Terence, this is stupid stuff”. Housman presents a dialogue in which he justifies a lot of his usually depressed and melancholy themes. The first stanza in this poem complains about the disheartening nature of Housman’s verse, saying that, “But oh, good Lord, the verse you make, It gives a chap the belly-ache.” (Line 5) In this stanza, Housman actually pokes fun at a couple of common poetic tools. “The cow, the old cow, she is dead;” (Line 6) makes fun of poetic repetition. “It sleeps well, the horned head,” (Line 7) mocks the conversion of one syllable words in two syllables because of meter. Also, “Moping melancholy mad,” (Line 12) teases the use of alliteration to make a point.
Terence, aka, Housman, responds by stating that, “And malt does more than Milton can To justify God’s ways to man. Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink For fellows whom it hurts to think” (Line 20-23). He argues that even though alcohol provides a happy escape from the world, this newly constructed reality is false and short-lived. In the third stanza he justifies this claim by proclaiming that, “Therefore, since the world has still Much good, but much less good than ill, And while the sun and moon endure Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure, I’d face it as a wise man would, And train for ill and not for good.” (Line 42-47). If there is more rain than sun, it makes sense to buy an umbrella. Only by preparing for the “ill” can people confront the terrible that will eventually find them.
The final stanza gives an example of how preparing for the worst brings the best. A king would introduce his body to dangerous toxins and eventually grew such a resistance to their fatal effects that when, “They put arsenic in his meat And stared aghast to watch him eat; They poured strychnine in his cup And shook to see him drink it up: They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt” (Lines 69-73) Like the poison, as ill fortune inflicts upon the body so must it be prepared. If so, Housman shows that like Mithridates, only time can find your mortality.

Shruti said...

Wow, this is a very long and gnarly poem. I apologize in advance for what will probably not be my most insightful post ever, but here goes...

In the first stanza, the narrator expresses his frustration with and lack of hope for life. He also, as Evan said, mocks many poetic devices; he ridicules excessive, reaching rhyming by saying "Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme/Your friends to death before their time" (11-12), which is actually funny because his whole poem has an A/B, C/D, E/F, etc. rhyming pattern.

Then, he goes on to say that alcohol is effective to dull the pain and depression he experiences, but it does not last long: "Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer/Then the world seemed none so bad...And down in lovely muck I’ve lain/Happy till I woke again" (32-36). This temporary relief is contrasted by the next stanza, which describes what I believe is the author's solace in poetry: "Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale/Is not so brisk a brew as ale...But take it: if the smack is sour/The better for the embittered hour; It should do good to heart and head/When your soul is in my soul’s stead" (48-56). He is saying that though his writing does not bring immediate relief as alcohol does, it is a more lasting, healing relief that helps his soul.

Honestly, that's about as far as I understand of the poem. The stanza about the king who is completely tolerant to the poison and lives a long life...I just don't get it. My closest guess is that it's a metaphor for the wish to become tolerant to the little unhappinesses that seem to weigh down the author so much, but I really don't know. I hope we discuss this tomorrow, because it interests me and I want to understand it more.

KeliZhou said...

This poem is a justification for writing about the depressing and sorrowful things in life as a means of toughening people up to face the worst that life can throw at someone.

Some, like the first speaker, complain about his mournful poems, “the cow, the old cow, she is dead” and suggests that Terrence start writing happier words, “pipe a tune to dance to, lad.” The second speaker, Terrence criticizes those who want the peppy poems; they are hiding from the true world, “for fellows whom it hurts to think; look into the pewter pot To see the world as the world’s not.” Speaker one seems to be a people who drinks (I feel like speaker one pokes fun of Terrence’s writing, so Terrence pokes fun of his drinking). Beer is what a person should turn to for happy thoughts, because the beer goggles will make “the world seemed not so bad” but when the sun rises once again, the “pleasant till ‘tis past” and “the mischief is that ‘twill not last.” In the third stanza-ish part, Terrence makes his point. He says that life contains happy moments and sad moments, but more of the latter, so everyone must “train for ill and not for good.” In the final section, Housman uses a historical allusion to heighten his reasoning behind “stem that scored the hand…it should do good to heart and head” The King started slowly but soon bombarded his body to tolerate the poisonous objects of this world, and while others stared at him, assuming death would come soon, he actually died of old age. “I tell the tale that I heard told. Mithridates, he died old.” Sad poetry keeps the real world in mind, and by witnessing it, a person will be ready to face and endure the long haul of life.

Mohammed said...

first of all what i liked about this poem was that Housman acknowledged some of the critisim he might have faced at the time. I think the first stanza works very well as the speaker astutley and succintly mocks the apparent pomp and circumstance that poetry is labeled to have. the first speaker is a simple man who likes a good time dancing to groovy beats with no "moping melancoly mad:"
the use of alliteration and manipulations of sounds gives the speaker an almost dazed sound and feel.

The second speaker slings right back at the attack on his work by obliging that for people like you alcohol is the best medicine. Non thinkers would despise serious subject matter. “And malt does more than Milton can To justify God’s ways to man. Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink For fellows whom it hurts to think” (Line 20-23). John Milton's theme in Paradise Lost combined with alliteration with the letter M to juxtaposed with the mood-enhacing qualities of Ale. But Ale is short-lived,"Happy till I woke again. then I saw the morning sky:Heigho, the tale was all a lie;The world, it was the old world yet,"

The third stanza gives a rationale to the gloomy aspect of the second speakers many poems. A pessimistic outlook of the world is portrayed and ill-prepared morons will suffer,"Therefore, since the world has still/Much good, but much less good than ill...
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,"

the final stanza gives evidence to the rationale by retelling a story of the mythical king who was cautious of his enemies and built a tolerance to poison. He able to withstand assasination attempts with forward thinking and a pessimistic outlook,"They put arsenic in his meat/And stared aghast to watch him eat;"

a final interpretation might lead to conclude that the speaker is trying to give us a sort of vaccine similar to the king, but like all vaccine to be immune you must build up tolerance and have to endure episodes of somber moods to be prepared for the real deal.

Ariel said...

Thank you to everyone who posted before me! I think I have a grasp on the poem now. Here it goes:

Terence and his acquaintance, who will be referred to as Speaker 1, are discussing each other’s specialties. Terrence’s specialty is poetry while Speaker 1 specializes in drinking. In the first stanza, Speaker 1 very openly mocks the works of Terence by opening his statement with: “Terence, this is stupid stuff.” As Evan mentioned, he goes on to ridicule the various literary devices that are overused in poetry and how poetry always seem to have a “moping melancholy” feel to it. Speaker 1 encourages Terence to stop living in his depressing world of poetry and to live a little saying he should “pipe a tune to dance to.”

Then it is Terence’s turn to rebuttal. At first Terence acquiesces to Speaker 1’s advice. Terence says that dancing and drinking is much more fun than the dull poetry. However, Terence quickly turns this point around saying that “ale’s the stuff to drink For fellows whom it hurts to think.” Though drinking may be fun, it is only used to blur out reality for people who find it too difficult to think about the real world. People who drink are only blinding themselves from the reality of the world, seeing the world “as the world’s not.” However, Terence describes that the happiness that ale provides is only temporarily:

“Happy till I woke again. Then I saw the morning sky: Heigho, the tale was all a lie; The world, it was the old world yet, I was I, my things were wet, And nothing now remained to do But begin the game anew.”

Once people regain consciousness they will only wake up to find the world as the same dull place. Then all they will want to do is to drink again.

So instead of living in a constant state of drunkenness, Terence, in Stanza 3, philosophizes that men must “train for ill and not for good” because there is “much less good than ill.” This way, when happiness comes upon, then one can enjoy it, yet when it is the “embittered hour” one may bear to take it as a strong person. This is the reason why Terence’s poetry is as melancholy as Speaker 1 describes it. Terence believes that the melancholy poetry is good for the soul. It prepares a person well for life, rather than alcohol which only temporarily numbs the pain.

In the final stanza, Terence concludes his argument with the great king of Pontus, Mithridates. Mithridates prepared for the worse by drinking poison “First a little, thence to more.” He slowly built up his immunity, so that when people “put arsenic in his meat And stared aghast to watch him eat” nothing happened because Mithridates was already prepared. In the end, his preparations for the worst led him to live a long and prosperous life. “Mithridates, he died old.”

So melancholic poetry is like the poison that Mithridates inflicts upon himself. Though it may not immediately satiate readers emotional wants, the poetry is healthy for a reader to help it build immunity to life rather than to succumb to all the ills of the world.

Tess Cauvel said...

I had some trouble with this poem… still warming up with all the poetry analyzing. Housman’s poem is pretty long, and is marked by four stanzas with distinctive shifts. In the first stanza, the first speaker criticizes the negative and depressing poetry of individuals like Terence that “gives a chap the belly-ache” and makes his friends “moping melancholy mad.” Then we switch over to the second speaker, presumably Terence, who defends poetry against speaker one, for it will “do good to heart and head,” while careless and excessive drunkenness (or the jovial “dance” poems preferred by the first speaker) leaves you worse off in the morning. He explains that people must be realistic and pragmatic and prepare for the ills of the world, because the happy drunken stupor only lasts so long: “Heigho, the tale was all a lie/ The world, it was the old world yet/ I was I, my things were wet.”

I’m confused by the “how” the last paragraph means. Thanks to Keli I understand it’s basic meaning, but could someone help me out with its function in connection with the first three stanzas?

Austin Luvaas said...

As has been stated in above posts, the purpose of this poem is to refute those who believe that living pleasurably in the present is best. Drinking may be enjoyable and provide satisfaction, but this result is only temporary; when you wake up, the world and your problems are exactly as you left them, and you must "begin the game anew." Thus drinking is a frivolous action whose illusion is only useful to the less intelligent: "Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink/ For fellows whom it hurts to think:/Look into the pewter pot/To see the world as the world's not." Terence believes the effect of pleasant and optimistic poetry to be similar to that of drinking. "Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,” he states. Therefore "wise men" prepare for what is certain rather than what is improbable, training "for ill and not for good." It is because of this that Terence chooses to read and write cynical poetry. To support his reasoning, he cites the tale of Mithridates, who "gathered all that springs to birth/From the many-venomed earth" and when his enemies "put arsenic in his meat" they "stared aghast to watch him eat." Like dark poetry, eating poisoned food and drink may not be pleasant at the time of consumption, but the immunity it creates against the inevitable evils of the world makes it a valuable sacrifice.

Jennifer Li said...

In the first stanza, an unknown narrator chides Terence for his poems. His poems are morose, sad enough to send his “friends to death before their time”. This narrator wants happy, upbeat poems that are meant for entertainment; he wants Terence to “come, pipe us a tune to dance to, lad.” Instead, Terence likes to write the sad, serious poems. The use of lad in the last line of the first stanza implies that the speaker of this stanza seems to be an older adult. The alliteration in the first paragraph, “moping melancholy mad” and “horned head” ridicules Terence’s poems.

Terence replies that “ale’s the stuff to drink/For fellows whom it hurts to think”. If the first speaker doesn’t want to think of such serious poems, he should drink alcohol. Terence is now mocking the first person in return. Although alcohol is good for avoiding problems for a few hours, reality then returns. The poems that Terence likes to write confront reality instead of running away from it. “But take it: if the smack is sour/The better for the embittered hour;/it will do good to heart and head”. People become stronger the more obstacles they overcome. By reading Terence’s cynical poems, people may build an ‘immunity’ to the sour grapes that life may bring, as noted in the fourth stanza and Terence’s tale of Mithridates.

Jennifer Kwon said...

The stupid stuff mentioned by the first line, “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff,” is poetry. The first speaker and Terence (speaking in part of Housman) argue over the importance of poetry. The first speaker mocks poetry and complains of its mournful and depressing style of writing. He suggests that drinking beer is a better way to have a fun time and solve your problems away. In the first stanza, he argues “To see the rate you drink your beer. But oh, good Lord, the verse you make, It gives a chap the belly-ache. The cow, the old cow, she is dead;” Here, the first speaker uses repetition in order to mock poetry, as well as when he states “moping melancholy mad,” where he applied alliteration. Immediately, Terence comes in to defend poetry and its true power to prepare us for the most emotional states that we may encounter in reality. “Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink for fellows whom it hurts to think: look into the pewter pot to see the world as the world’s not…The mischief is that ‘twill not last…Then the world seemed none so bad…Happy till I woke again.” Even though drinking may be a way to ignore current problems, which still exist unsolved, the world around them is the same, waiting for them to be sober again. Only people that don’t use their brains resort to beer, whereas people who acknowledge the value of poetry agree with the statement “It will do good to heart and head.”

Terence continues his argument as he introduces his friend an example of Mithridates, a king that foresaw the possibility of being served “with poisoned meat and poisoned drink.” The King was prepared for any mishap; By feeding himself certain plants little by little, he could become immune of such poisons. In the end, “Mithridates, he died old,” and not from the poison fed into his cup. Poetry allows the soul to be aware of all its surroundings and to create a barricade for all the ills in the world.

Josh said...

Housman’s poem starts off with the title, ‘Terence, this is stupid stuff’ and marks the start of a piece of dialogue between two speakers. The first speaker, as mentioned, slightly mocks the use of poetry by using silly rhymes and sentence structure. The person is advising Terence (presumably) to change his way of poetry as ‘pretty friendship tis to rhyme your friends to death’ and calls his poetry with the alliteration of ‘moping melody mad’. The second stanza of the poem is Terence’s reply to the first speaker. He admits that drinking beer feels better than poetry ‘malt does more than Milton can’ but only for momentary escape, as seen by ‘Happy till I woke again. Then I saw the morning sky: Heigho, the tale was all a lie; The world, it was the old world yet, I was I, my things were wet, And nothing now remained to do But begin the game anew.’ Terence tells that beer is only for those who wish to escape reality as they cannot do not wish to think about it too much as the speaker says ‘ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink for fellows whom it hurts to think’.

The poem also deals with living, since the world is a dreary place (to the person waking up), Terence says that ‘nothing now remained to do but begin the game anew’, meaning to continue living again. However, he also says that the word has much good still, although more ill than good, and advises to ‘train for ill and not for good’, meaning to be accustomed to dealing with hardships as a wise man and the ‘stuff’ he sells [poetry], in this sense, is better than ale. Terence says that the stuff he sells is better for the ‘embittered hour; It will do good to heart and head’.

The last stanza is proof of training for ill. It talks about a king that slowly built up immunity for the various poisons and became immune to poison when everyone was not. Instead of dying from poison, the king, Mithridates, died of old age, showing that although the second speaker’s poetry may be ‘melancholy mad’, in the end, it comforts the soul in the ‘dark and cloudy day’ rather than the fleeting escape in beer.

Globetrotter~Katie said...

As I am so fond of doing, I decided to search for a meaning behind the name of the second speaker, “Terence.” I thought it a mite queer that A. E. Housman would choose a title dissimilar to his. What I found was hardly conclusive, as “Terence” has an unknown meaning. However, I found that it is a variant of the ancient Roman name Terentius. Famous bearers include a Roman playwright and a scholar. Though it might have been pure chance on the part of Housman, purposeful insertion of this name adds a stealthy sort of roundness to the poem. “Terence, this is stupid stuff,” the jeering speaker says. Little does he know there is more to this man before him than merely a dandy writer of limericks.

I don’t know how much light that sheds on our situation, but hey…

Some sources I found hypothesized (again, not concluded) that Terence means “tender” or “gentle.” This is true to the character I found in “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff.” Instead of justifying himself and his poetry, Terence is calm and honest in his reply. He realizes that his mocking colleague does not understand the significance to poetry, the profundity that, quite frankly, the rest of the world lacks in their jovial obliviousness. “Why, if ‘tis dancing you would be,/There’s brisker pipes than poetry.” Terence does not try to fit poetry to match his audience; he leaves it as it is. It is easy to eat, drink, and be merry, but after that “Nothing now remain[s] to do/But begin the game anew.” Terence has experienced drunkenness and the apparent bliss that comes with it. Unlike others, though, he realizes that it comes to nothing and one wakes up worse off than before: “I was I, my things were wet.” There exists no long lasting result. Poetry, Terence states, is different. It begins in the same way, emerging from heart ache and “a weary land.” Rather than acting as an escape from reality, poetry explores the darkest corners of the human mind and existence. When one has faced the facts and learned of their deeper meaning, it is easier to exist in the world. I really love what J-Kwon noted in her last paragraph. The final section of Terence’s little speech embodies what I explained above. Like Mithridates, one who engages in poetry rather than drinking and merriment is better equipped for a difficult life, no matter how potent the poison.

Kathy Xiong said...

“Terence, This is Stupid Stuff” is an exhange between two people with very different philosophies on life. The first man who ridicules Terence for his mournful poems believes that one should not dwell on misfortunes because that would make one miss the good moments in life. Rather than suffering because of the suffering of others (“To hear such tunes as killed the cow”) and giving the world sadness that is not its due (“…Pretty friendship ‘tis to rhyme/Your friends to death before their time”), one should just move on and erase the melancholy past with a merry tune.
Terence replies to his merry and oblivious friend that if all he wants is pleasantness, he would go for liquor rather than for poetry. But liquor, Terence points out, only paints the world a brighter color without changing its rotten nature. Ale makes a man “… see the world as the world’s not”, and as with all illusions, “The mischief is that ‘twill not last”. Soon, the pleasant lull of alcohol wears off and one finds himself still helplessly trapped in the “old world” again. Terence disparages this kind of “happy” existence because it does not make a person’s life better; it only makes him more ignorant of life’s ills.
The only thing that would make a person stronger in a world of troubles, Terence goes on to explain, is the constant exercise provided by the slings and arrows themselves. A “wise man” would strengthen his muscles by taking up arms against misfortunes, rather than taking temporary refuge in drunken stupor. Even though the tonic water of somber poetry is sour, the unpleasant taste prepares a person for the worst (“The better for the embittered hour”).
At last, as fitting for a country poet, Terence tells a story to illustrate his point. The king Mithridates, by conscious taking poisons in progressively greater doses, has become immune against the poisons of his enemies. Mithridates is able to prepare himself for a treacherous world by acknowledging the fact and by exposing his body to danger early on.
The simple rhyming pattern of the poem, its colloquial syntax and diction, and its references to local facts reveal the working-class status of the speakers. The listener imagines Terence as a worker rather than a scholar, a country poet rather than a highly learned gentleman, and believes that Terence speaks from experience when he says, “Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink/For fellows whom it hurts to think”, and “And while the sun and moon endure/Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure”. The down-to-earth tone of the poem makes Terence’s laments about life personal and effective.

Lindsay said...

“Terence this is stupid stuff” provides a look into the meaning of poetry and the experience of poetry through the medium of poetry. Also, it’s very traditional rhyming structure makes its venture more important – its successful and refreshing execution proves that there is more to poetry than simply picking rhyming words. For these reasons, I agree with its selection as one of the first pieces we analyze.

Terence begins by quoting a friend that is not friendly to Terence’s poetic works, instead desiring entertainment. I love the irony that Shruti pointed out – Terence probably rephrases his friend’s complaints into an aggregate poem. Their words are probably the most boring verse in the entire poem, proving the speaker correct. “Moping, melancholy, mad” is bad verse – or at least it grates on the ears. The medium of poetry isn’t at fault, something else is, the attitude of the first speaker. If the rest of the poem reads to you as the first stanza does, then (to sound like the pretentious writers of Sound and Sense) something is wrong with your ear.

In the rest of the poem, Terence discusses alternative enjoyments, the function of poetry, and provides an example of the power and possible meanings of a poem. One of his possible aids for worthwhile living is alcohol, which can “justify God’s ways to man” but only makes Terence “Happy till I woke again”. The other suggestion is to “train for ill and not for good” which “should do good to heart and head”. The training is what Terence brings for sale, or that dramatic poetry his friend loathes.

Considering that the speaker is proving the value of poetry, the last passage is an example of the power of poetry. It isn’t happy, like his un-named friend wants, it doesn’t solve the woes of life, but it does help prove the essential nature of tragedy and dramatic works. Keli helps to make the passage much clearer: the king is letting himself experience the ills of life, rather than avoid them, and they didn’t kill him. Terence, and perhaps Housman, are pointing out that we should not avoid the “poisons” of life or literature. (Though I wouldn’t start ingesting things with the Mr. Yuck sticker on them – Terrence’s advice is purely metaphorical here.) For Housman the value of pessimistic literature is that it is another part of the tragedies of life, and helps make one stronger.

Callie G said...

The first stanza (Paragraph? Section? Piece?) quotes a man complaining about his friend’s depressing poetry. It’s understandable. Can’t you picture the scene? All they want is to have a good time drinking away at the tavern and Terence just won’t shut up about how depressing the world is. It would be like going off to a pub and all your friend can talk about is the recession, the corrupt government, the super nova that will destroy the Earth, etc. The speaker (Terence) then refutes the first speaker with a section about how men who drink to solve their problems don’t actually wake up any happier than those that don’t, “And nothing now remained to do but begin the game anew”. I agree that this section discusses the merits of a temporary solution to sadness, but I think it also serves as a little biting comment to speaker one. This poem, to me, is a dialogue, the first stanza establishes that, so it makes sense that there is more of a relationship between the two speakers than just a lecture. If these men are indeed off at a tavern, then wouldn’t speaker one be drinking? And isn’t he insisting on having a good time because he doesn’t want to feel sad? He does say “Pretty friendship ‘tis to rhyme your friends to death before their time moping melancholy mad” come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad”. In a way, Terence is making a sharp point to his drinking friend about how his merriment will not last the night. I don’t think that Housman necessarily believes that the world is a depressing and gloomy place and that one must expose their self to sadness in order to deal with it. I think that the point is more down the line of needing both sadness and happiness. As other people have discussed, Housman has the opinion that one must experience the bad to be capable of dealing with the sad things that happen in life. The last two stanzas do a fair job of representing that opinion. However, I don’t believe that Housman is saying that you can’t have fun or that there is no point in enjoying life, but rather that you must have good and bad in a balance and that you can’t expect to live a life with only pleasure. He suggests that you embrace all aspects of life. “I’d face it as a wise man would, and train for ill and not for good” doesn’t mean don’t expect to ever be happy, it means that if one is wise, they will prepare for whatever comes their way.

JennNguyen said...

This is not only a justification for Housman's sad poetry, but also a word to his critics about how naive their continually optimistic outlooks on life are.

The first line of the poem "Terence, this is stupid stuff" begins a dialogue between two speakers, one presumably the critic of Housman's poetry, the second speaker "Terence" represents Housman's argument. The first stanza is the critic telling Terence that the poetry he makes "gives a chap the belly-ache" because it is so sad. The critic suggests Terence instead write about happier things ("moping melancholy mad: come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad") instead of depressing stories such as "the cow, the old cow, she is dead," an example which mocks poetry.

The second stanza is Terence's argument for why having a perpetually optimistic view on life through dancing and drinking is foolish and delusional. He states that "for fellows whom it hurts to think: look into the pewter pot [a kind of beer mug with a lid] to see the world as the world's not," meaning, for those who are stupid and do not like the bother of comprehension of poetry, just drink to see the world as you like it. He's scathingly criticizing how drunkards see everything for what it's not and that their world, and even how they perceive themselves is not real ("then the world seemed none so bad, and I myself a sterling lad"). However, once they awaken from their hangover, the truth is still there to greet them, it is not something they can escape from permanently "happy till i woke again... the world, it was the old world yet, I was I, my things were wet").

In the third stanza, Terence now speaks of Housman's own philosophy on life: to see things realistically and prepare for the worse ("I'd face it as a wise man would, and train for ill and not for good"). He's saying that basically since there's more bad in life than there is good, there is no use in blocking out what is negative. Instead, one should embrace life's sorrow and prepare for it in one's own life, that is the best way to live.

The final stanza is an example of Housman's "better safe than sorry" philosophy applied to life by King Mithridates, who prepared for the worse and ended up living a nice long life because of it. Mithridates "gathered all the springs to birth from the many-venomed earth" and "sampled all her killing store" so that he built up an immunity to poison little by little. Then when his dinner was poisoned, Mithridates survived. This illustrates how wise a choice it is to prepare for the worse in life because you don't know what bad things are lurking in your future.

All four stanzas of the poem work together to get across Housman's justification for his poetry, it is simply a realistic portrayal of life and its happenings. It is not always pleasant, but it is the truth, something that we all must brace for.

Sarah Doty said...

Okay. I am just going to write what came to my mind when I read this poem after about the fourth time. It might not make any sense or be totally crazy but I feel good that I was able to get some idea of what this poem was maybe talking about.

1. "And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past: The mischief is that 'twill not last." I think Terence believes that faith is good but it won't do anything for one in the end. Having faith is being ignorant of the bad by just hoping for the good, and in order to find the good, one must recognize the bad.

2. "Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer: then the world seemed none so bad... Happy till I woke again." Terence is saying that drinking only takes away your problems for a short time. "And nothing now remained to do But begin the game anew." Terence believes that by drinking away one's problems, one will just continue in a circle of misery: Feel pain, drink, pain decreases, sober up, feel pain, drink, pain decreases, sober up, feel pain, etc.

3. "'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale Is not so brisk a brew as ale...It will do good to heart and head When your soul is in my soul's stead" Terence, I believe, is saying that although what he writes does not take away pain as fast as drinking does, it gives people someone to connect with when they are in misery. A connection with someone will last longer than alcohol in the bloodstream. Although Terence's poetry seems unhappy, it brings good.

4. I was having a very difficult time understanding how the fourth paragraph fit in the the others, or even what exactly it was saying. I want to thank Evan for helping it make a whole lot more sense to me. I read the fourth stanza again after reading Evan's post and I find his analysis very fitting.

kirsten.e.myers said...

Two people sit discussing different matters. The first person, speaker 1, is light hearted, enjoys a good beer and “a tune to dance to” [line 14]. The second speaker, a poet who feels “ale’s the stuff to drink/ For fellows who it hurts to think”. The two are presumably friends, but seem prone to disagreement, with the first speaker thinking the second’s poetry “gives a chap the belly-ache”, and wishes him to be more fun and cheery, instead of weighed down with the worlds troubles.

The first stanza is the first speakers accosting his friend, the poet, Terence. The following stanzas are Terence’s calm response to his chum’s sneering words. The mood shifts with the speakers, and again at the third stanza, as Terence’s tone turns from an ironic apology for poetry to seriousness over the true value of poetry.

Terence understands the allure of ale, having had the expierence of it’s oxymoronic “lovely muck” [35]. On the other hand he also knows the pure superficiality of ale, that after the “lovely muck” is the realization that “Heighho, the tale was all a lie/The world, it was the old world yet” [39]. But this is why Terence turns to his poetry instead. Poetry has the power to “train for ill and not for good” [48], just as Mithridates ate small doses of poison to prepare him for an eventual poisoning, the small doses of pain from poetry prepare one for “the embittered hour” [54], or real pain. This building up of immunity from pain with poetry juxtaposes with ale’s attempt to deal with pain; by blocking it out, to avoid dealing with the actual pain, replacing feeling of “ill” with those of “good”. Terence believes this compensation will not solve internal problems, and therefore chooses “stupid stuff” or poetry.

kirsten.e.myers said...

p.s. I really liked what Callie said about the balance or ying and yang of sadness and happiness as the core of Housman's poem.

Christopher Wang said...

Poetry analysis is hard! I’ve never spent more time on a piece of text than I have with our other novels (exaggerating, of course). [The next two paragraphs were written on Thursday – but I procrastinated my full analysis until today :( -- so it’s not very helpful now since everybody knows what the poem is about and how it came to be)

In order for me to analyze a piece of literature, I feel it’s important to have some background information of the author. So I’m just going to give some information on E.A. Housman. It might even be helpful for others. E.A. Housman was born in Worchestershire in 1859 as the eldest child in the family. His mother died when he was only twelve years old, and his step-mother took care of the family afterwards. His father was apparently a country solicitor. At a young age, Housman was highly praised for his poetry, winning numerous awards. However, his heart belonged to the Classics (Greek and Latin studies). “Terence, this is stupid stuff” was written as a part of a collection of poems called “A Shropshire Lad” (apparently, named after the county itself). The theme that seemed to revolve around the collect was pessimism and death.

Okay. I think that’s all of the important information that is needed to better understand this poem. Also, because Housman was a British man, he uses some references that we are not familiar with like Burton on Trent.

The first stanza can be seen in quotes, meaning someone is saying it directly to Terence. It seems to be that Terence is Housman himself (which would make sense given the background information), so when the speaker says “Terence, this is stupid stuff:,” he’s talking to Housman because his poetry is always so dark and dreary. It’s so pessimistic that “It gives a chap the belly-ache.” The speaker even says “The cow, the old cow, she is dead; / It sleeps well, the horned head:” I looked online and in Norse mythology, the cow represents Audhumla who provided nourishment to the giants that ruled the world. Also, the cow can also symbolize the Greek Goddess, Hera, the Goddess of marriage and fertility. I thought that was interesting that Housman intentionally included that to say that nourishment (or life) is vanished because of Terence’s melancholy poetry. The speaker wishes him to “pipe a tune to dance to, lad” to a more pleasant kind of poem.

The speaker in the second stanza is Terence himself, mocking the first speaker. Terence (or Housman) is trying that the life of an alcoholic is a sadder life than any somber poetry. To consume beer is to “look into the pewter pot / To see the world as the world’s not.” It is only a fantasy or illusion. Poetry, even sorrowful poetry, is real because the poet lives in reality. But alcoholics (the first speaker) see the “morning sky” and “the tale was all a lie.”

The third stanza reiterates and fortifies Terence’s statement that poetry is meant to state the truth, or reality: “Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure.” And Terence would rather “train for ill and not for good” because it prepares him for the worst situations instead of unknowingly floating in the clouds in ale.

And finally, in his fourth stanza, he tells of a myth where the king of Pontus builds his immunity to poison by consuming more and more poison until “They put arsenic in his meat / And state aghast to watch him eat; / They poured strychnine in his cup / And shook to see him drink it up:” I think what Housman is trying to say is that poetry is just like Mithridates where it takes little amounts to absorb the reality of poetry. But even if it is very slow, it is better than living a life of ignorance.

Emelia Ficken said...

Terence and Speaker one come from the country in England, and are probably not as educated as Speaker One seems to think most poets should be. Speaker One laughs at Terence because of his passion for poetry and thinks it a waste of time and painful for himself to endure (5-12).
Terence however, seems to be more educated than his friend knows, as we see in the last stanza where he alludes to Mithridates (59-76). Terence is speaking of the way Speaker One reacts to his poetry as if it were poisen, meaning to say that Speaker One's jibes aren't as penetrating as he thinks they are. He uses Speaker One's tendency to 'self-medicate' as a jumping off point for the whole poisen aspect (26-36).

P.S. Callie is the best.

Becca said...

Terence and the other speaker have two different viewpoints on life: Terence believes that “Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure.” (third stanza), which means that there will always be trouble and that one should be prepared. He believes that one should always prepare for the future—better safe than sorry: “train for ill and not for good”. The other speaker believes in living pleasurably and forgetting all the troubles of the world by drinking: “look into the pewter pot / To see the world as the world’s not.” and “Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink/For fellows whom it hurts to think”.

The other speaker knows that the happiness found in ale is only temporary: "Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer: then the world seemed none so bad... Happy till I woke again." But instead of dealing with reality, as soon as he wakes up from his stupor, he "begin[s] the game anew."

In the fourth stanza, Terence tells of King M who consume poison little by little until he become immune to it altogether: “They put arsenic in his meat / And state aghast to watch him eat; / They poured strychnine in his cup / And shook to see him drink it up.” So, by building up his immunity, he died of old age rather than poisoning. Better safe than sorry. Housman’s message is that one should always try to prepare for the future instead of living in the present.

AlyssaCaloza said...

I liked this poem too. It was really really long so I would say I was a little lost but thanks to everyone's post I think I have a much better understanding of what it is all about.

In class I remember we established that the first stanza is someone who was making a complaint. He is the the guy or possible girl (not to be sexist) who wants to have fun, "come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad". Then we also talked about the remaining stanzas are the "poet" or the "non alcoholic" making a refute? to the first speaker. I believe that he recognizes that drinking can help create happiness but he also knows that this happiness is fake and not permanent, "'tis pleasant till 'tis past: the mischief is that 'twill not last".

I like to think that the "poet" or Terrance is the guy in his group of friends who is the more mature one with some wisdom. He is that one guy that has gone through a few hardships and now has a bleak look on life. I get the feeling that he is sort of giving this pep talk to the first guy and trying to give him some solid advice.

The last stanza was difficult for me to understand. I took it as that Terrance was trying to say be careful for what you do because it might come back to hurt you in the end. I looked up Mithridates (not very thoroughly) in wikipedia (yes, not the best place to look) and I noticed this very poem is actually mentioned. I just thought that was cool. Anyways, I still don't think I have the best understanding of this poem but I have a somewhat grasp on this one...hopefully.

Grace said...

I must admit I understood very little of the poem initially, but now, after reading everyone's posts, I feel like I have a firmer grasp of the overall meaning and idea now. Of course, that also means that there is little original thought I have to offer right now, but there's more opportunity for that later and during any in class discussion we may have on this poem.

I have always found that poetry easily creates vivid imagery for me, and I see two people together, one half drunken and without a care in the world, and the other weary and wary and wise. The first, as most have been referring to as Speaker 1, pokes fun at Terence, and at poetry in general, with words such as "The cow, the old cow, she is dead", "We poor lads, ’tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow", "moping melancholy mad", and asks Terence to "pipe a tune to dance to".

Terence responds by acknowledging that yes, turning to alcohol does provide a certain feeling of elation, but he goes on to point out that such feelings are false and fleeting ("Happy till I woke again; Then I saw the morning sky: Heigho, the tale was all a lie; The world, it was the old world yet").

He gives Mithridates as an example, an ancient King who knew of the danger that could potentially fall upon him and kill him, and so instead of succumbing to ignorance and therefore false bliss, he prepares himself by consuming a dose of poison (the ills of the world, in Terence's case), so in the end when he was made a victim of poison, the King had built up his immunity and overcame it, and, as Terence concludes, "died old"

Kristen Day said...

It is difficult for me at this point to do more than just summarize each stanza as I understand it. From what I’ve gathered, Housman's poem are regarded as generally pessimistic, and this poem seems to act as an explanation as to why.

Terence's poems are so depressing the speaker he will "rhyme your friends to death before their time." He then encourages Terence to come and pipe out a tune so that they can dance...which shows that he wants to be cheery and joyful instead of so pessimistic.

Terence and the other speaker are mocking each other’s way of life. In the second stanza Terence defends his poetry by saying that alcoholism forces someone to “see the world as the world’s not.” I agree with what Chris said about the poet living in reality while the drunk is only merry because he is…well…drunk.

For the third stanza Terence briefly breaks off from his normal view of life and concedes that “the world has still much good” and then goes back to his old ways with the comment “but much less good than ill” He says that writing poetry, unlike drinking ale, he is able to be wise and keep his head on straight so that he is prepared for the hardships that life brings.

I was having a really hard time with the fourth stanza but after reading some of the other posts I think that the historical allusion just reinforces all that Terence has brought to light. Terence is proving that his pessimistic view will help him to survive in the long run just as Mithridates survived the poisoned meat because he prepared for the worst.

alphabitten said...

The first thing I noticed about "Terence, this is stupid stuff," was the first paragraph, naturally since it is the first one I read and took the time to ponder. Anyway, first I noticed the question marks that immediately set it apart from the following paragraphs. Second, I noticed that first speaker in the first paragraph the speaker seemed to be not only commenting negatively on poetry, but making fun of it as well. We see his repetition of "the cow, the old cow..." followed a couple of lines down by "moping melancholy mad." I agree with Lindsay that this repetition is not pleasing to the ears, rather it is overkill of the traditional alliterations used in poetry. In well written poems, for example, alliterations serve a purpose that enhances "how the poetry means." It's funny
that the speaker believes the verse "gives a chap the belly-ache," when it is his verse, and misunderstanding of poetry that is the true belly-ache.

Following in the second paragraph, is the response by the other speaker, presumably Terence, since he is a poet. He explains, "there's brisker pipes than poetry," and goes on to rhyme about ale. Since the initial speaker is not pleased by poetry I suspect that he doesn't understand it and Terence realizes it and
let's him know that ale is more suitable for people that can't take things like poetry, that require an abstract and creative thought process. As he puts it "Ale man, ale's the stuff to drink/ For fellows whom it hurts to think." For example, people drink knowing full well the outcome of such a venture, being drunk.

In the third paragraph I felt that when Terence rhymes "'Tis true the stuff I bring for sale/ Is not so brisk a brew as ale," he is speaking about poetry. This paragraph serves as his justification for the need to rhyme and take a creative and abstract approach to writing. Terence is presumed to have drank before due to the subject matter of this piece, however, he realizes that in the morning the carefree and drunken stupor fades. Along the same lines, poetry is not an escape, like ale, but an exploration that brings the sorrows to the forefront.

The fourth paragraph seems to serve primarily as an allusion, or example of Terence's explanations. Mithridates, upon my research, also known as Mithridates the Great, King of Pontus, allegedly attempted to commit suicide, however, he had an immunity to the poison and his attempt failed. After researching Mithridates,
I better understood the explanation of the king given before. This last paragraph offers one final explanation in the form of a comparison, poison, like Terence's
poetry, when digested in small doses will create an immunity to death, or the worst life has to offer. Terence's poetry brings to light the sorrow's of the world in a way that ale can not, because with ale, one wakes in the morning to the same troubles they had before, whereas poetry can highlight and make these same sorrows more permanently tolerable.

Bryn said...

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that this is the hardest blog we’ve had all year.

Housman’s poem is essentially a dialogue between two individuals, each with a very different perspective. In the first part of the poem marked by quotation marks, a man mocks Terence for the gloominess of his poetry: “But oh, good Lord, the verse you make, it gives a chap the belly-ache” (5). The man makes fun of poets’ tendencies. His view is that one should not focus of life’s misfortunes, but rather on the more cheery aspects it offers.

The next paragraph is Terence’s response to the man. He essentially admits that drinking is more pleasurable than the poetry. Then he goes on to say that the enjoyment drinking brings is only transitory. It’s like a muddy road covered by snow. The snow can cover the dirty road and make it look perfect, but soon enough the sun will come out and the snow will melt, revealing the true nature of the muddy road. The same is the effect of drinking. It only masks reality for a limited amount of time, but one will have to come to terms with it eventually. We see this when the speaker writes: “Happy till I woke again. Then I saw the morning sky: Heigho, the tale was all a lie” (36). Thus, one will have to drink again and again it one never wants to come to terms with reality.

In the third paragraph of the poem, the speaker defends the melancholy tone in the poetry. His view is that because there is invariable sorrow in life, we must learn to deal with the misfortunes. The speaker writes, “I’d face it as a wise man would, and train for ill and not for good.”

The poem concludes with a historical allusion to Mithridates, the king of Pontus. Basically, this king was really smart. Since king’s were poisoned a lot when they would eat, Mithridates built up a tolerance to poison by first a withstanding a little, and then slowly more and more poison so that he would not die when “they put arsenic in his meat and stared aghast to watch him eat” (68). He prepared himself for the worst that could happen. The poem’s message is that we should be prepared for life’s worst. The poison is a symbol for the gloomy poetry. Thus, the speaker’s point is that the poetry helps us build up a certain tolerance to the misfortunes of life.

Udit Suri said...

After reading this poem I pictured the setting being inside a bar and Terence drinking and writing “stupid stuff”. It came to my attention that the first section of the poem is in quotations, which keeps it apart from the rest of the poem. The speaker of the poem has a complaint with Terence, he is concerned about the recurrent gloom of Terence's subject matter and tone, and “It gives a chap the belly-ache”. The attitude of Terence is very unhappy which is why the critic suggests to Terence that he write about happier things instead of sad stories such as "the cow, the old cow, she is dead.
The second section stars off on a high note, with a happy tone, “Why, if ‘tis dancing you would be,”, there is a sudden shift from attitude and tone of the critic, he transitions from criticizing Terence to explaining to him the joys in life. “To see the world as the world’s pot”, the optimistic point of view brought to the poem during this section affects its mood throughout the poem.
The third section of the poem gives the audience a new point of view, Housman’s point of view. He speaks of his own philosophy of life. "I'd face it as a wise man would, and train for ill and not for good", the speaker is pointing out more negatives in life than the positives, and one should prepare to handle life’s disappointments.
Overall I enjoyed this poem it was very skillfully crafted, and all the sections of this poem work together to create one piece of beauty.

Brendan said...

I love this poem. It’s so biting and satirical. The first stanza is a criticism of Terence, a poet. He begins by calling out Terence and saying that whatever he is poetically lamenting about must not be very important, as he still has the composure to eat and booze up, mocking the overdramatic tone that bad poetry often has. The speaker follows by satirizing poetry’s repetition and alliteration when he says “The cow, the old cow, she is dead” and “Moping melancholy mad” and finishes by asking for something a little happier and more worthwhile to dance to, such as a “pipe to tune.” The speaker is quite rude to Terence, especially with claims that the poetry is rhyming people to death (while speaking in rhyme as well).

And so begins Terence’s retort. Terence starts by telling the first speaker (for ease I’ll refer to him as Joe) that for this simple minded liquor is indeed a good substitute for poetry. I think he is being sarcastic when he says “And malt does more than Milton can/To justify God’s ways to man,” with Milton referring to the writer of “Paradise Lost.” Terence concludes by saying that if you look at life through a mug of beer with give you a na├»ve view of the world which will come to pass, and finishes with an anecdote. The overall tone is very lighthearted and does not come off as biting as the previous.

I have no idea who the speaker is in the last stanza. It feels like a separate poem. It is apparently about king Mithridates, who was poisoned twice but still survived to “die old.” Despite the literal interpretation, this poem reads to me in a very lighthearted, matter-of-factly tone, similar to The Beatles song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” As for what this segment means as a whole (and with relation to the rest of the stanzas) I quite frankly have no idea.

Globetrotter~Katie said...

After further pondering, I feel the origins of Terence's name shows that poetry is both an art form (hence the playwright) and the work of the more traditionally educated (the scholar).

jared andrews said...

Sorry for the super late reply, I guess I never realized I hadn't posted on here yet. Since I have an unfair advantage now after our in class discussion, I'll keep it brief (rather have something here that's been said than nothing at all).

This poem, as everyone has said before me, is a conversation between two people. The first is a fun-loving, party going, fellow who wishes Terrance would stop writing such gloomy material about an "old cow, she is dead" and instead "pipe a tune to dance to".

The second speaker, presumeably Terrance, offers his argument. He concedes that he himself has on more than one occasions felt the need to be sort of a party animal, but once he woke up "the world, it was the old world yet" and he just had a terrible hangover and was all wet.

In the third paragraph Terrance continues to somewhat agree with the first speaker, agreeing that poetry can be pretty dark. But he then comes back to say that poetry is overall good for the mind and soul saying "It should do good to heart and head when your soul is in my soul’s stead".

In his last paragraph Terrance references Mithridates, an old king who when his subjects attempts to poison him backfired and killed the would be assassins instead while the King himself lived a long life. This is a reference to those who try to kill poetry as an art form, it just makes them seem dull while poetry continues to live on.

Andrei said...

What I liked most about this poem was that it flows well. It is written as a conversation, and that may be the reason that the poem is so easy to recite.
The first verse is a criticism of the poetry of Terrence, and perhaps a criticism of poetry in general. It says that the poetry is made of "such tunes as killed the cow" meaning that the poems are mundane and suggests that Terrence write a lively "tune to dance to."
Terrence responds that poetry reveals the truths of the world. He says that if you want only a "livelier tune" there are plenty of options for you, at which point he goes on to make a list of various liquors. The point he makes is that the "livelier tunes" made "the tale a lie," masking the truth.
He continues to say that the truth is not often what we would like to see or admit "if the smack is sour, the better for the embittered hour," but this "sourness" helps us to realize our true faults, and the faults of the world. This realization is "good to heart and head," allowing us to grow and improve.
The closing stanza makes a reference to Mithridates- a king who avoided an assassination attempt, because of his wisdom and experience. This is a metaphor for poetry-- though many may try to kill it by claiming it is outdated or useless, poetry, like Mithridates, will survive for many years. Though it has been a popular form for so many years, poetry will continue to be successful for exactly that reason-- it can adapt to new challenges because it has lived through so many.

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

This entry is filed under .

You can also follow any responses to all entry through the RSS Comments feed.