Friday, 19 December 2008

Distant Hills

For me, one of the most sorrowful poems in modern English poetry is to be discovered in A Shropshire Lad, by A E Housman (1859-1936). I distinctly remember a tutor of mine telling me long ago, that one day we will all come to appreciate the full meaning of these words.

Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

As a poet, Housman is chiefly remembered for the wistful and metrical poems of A Shropshire Lad (1896), which he originally published at his own expense. Housman was not a native of Shropshire but originally came from Worcestershire. However, Shropshire became an imaginary landscape for him. The poems present a lyrical and nostalgic view of English country life but are also underpinned by a deep sense of foreboding.

In 1979, as part of its Play For Today series, the BBC broadcast Blue Remembered Hills, a television play by Dennis Potter.

The play concerns a group of seven year olds playing in the Forest of Dean one summer afternoon during 1943. It illustrates how victimisation and stereotypical views occur even in young children, and ends abruptly when the character of Donald is burned to death as a result of the other children's actions. With the exception of the final scene, the play is seemingly frivolous. In fact it reflects on the human capability for brutality, especially in children. It is equally as foreboding as Housman’s poem and is in a similar vein to William Golding's The Lord of The Flies.

The most striking feature of the play was that though the characters were children they were played by adult actors. The screenplay has also been adapted for the theatre and as such, remains one of Dennis Potter's best known and most successful plays.

The cast of the original production were: Colin Welland (Willie), Michael Elphick (Peter), Robin Ellis (John), John Bird (Raymond), Helen Mirren (Angela), Janine Duvitski (Audrey) and Colin Jeavons as Donald.


  1. Very lovely essay (or is it a review?). I am so glad you gave a nod to Lord of the Flies. I saw Blue Remembered Hills at sometime and just recently re-watched Lord of the Flies.

    I was reminded that the cruelty and disregard for others that adults show does have its roots in the actions of children. But I continually expect progress in the civilization of humans.

    I am so happy you have opened a blog here.

  2. Thank you for this interesting blog and nice to see you here.

  3. Can I even comment here? It's interesting to find you on this site, Michael. I know that Jacqui has steered me toward it before as well, and she appears to thrive here. I'll have to check it out further.

    'The Shropshire Lad', yes. We all pine for those yesteryears whilst forgetting the spotted cruelties throughout that either we've inflicted or been victimised by through the albeit naive acts of others. All in all, my youth, if I remember rightly :), was pleasant enough. It was only my father who was impatient, lacking in understanding, stressed out and, thus, often distant and cruel.


  4. Very good read, M.

    I too continually expect advances in the civilization of humans--advances such as not condoning throwing shoes at our President--no matter our feelings towards him. But I suppose we can blame it on our less than ideal childhood...