Choose your poison with Donny

Today’s guest poster is the unlikeliest of elves, a man who does not move quietly in the world, a man not especially given to silliness although I have on occasion coerced him into performing a dance called the Shorty George with silly pointed fingers. This is not a person I ever imagined creeping around a burned-out bar in Rockville, Maryland to tape up a poem he loves, so shiver me timbers and color me surprised.


My brother Donny has always loved words, so it’s not a surprise that he loves A.E. Housman’s “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff.” The poem is from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad and it’s as fun to recite as any other poem in the collection. George Orwell wrote, “these were the poems which I and my contemporaries used to recite to ourselves, over and over, in a kind of ecstasy.” (Below I’ve included a video of some of the many men who’ve recorded themselves reciting this poem—might be easier to listen to than read.)


In spite of all the drinking in the poem, the message is sobering, and I suspect that the advice in the poem attracts Donny as much as the tuneful lines:


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.


This round’s on Donny! Thank you!

Terence, this is stupid stuff

by A.E. Housman


“Terence, this is stupid stuff!

You eat your victuals fast enough;

There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear,

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;

It sleeps well, the horned head…

We poor lads, ’tis our turn now

To hear such tunes as killed the cow!

Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme

Your friends to death before their time

Moping melancholy mad!

Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad!”


Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,

There’s brisker pipes than poetry.

Say, for what were hop-yards meant,

Or why was Burton built on Trent?

Oh many a peer of England brews

Livelier liquor than the Muse,

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:

Look into the pewter pot

To see the world as the world’s not.

And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:

The mischief is that ’twill not last.

Oh I have been to Ludlow fair

And left my necktie God knows where,

And carried half way home, or near,

Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:

Then the world seemed none so bad,

And I myself a sterling lad;

And down in lovely muck I’ve lain,

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.


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.

‘Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale

Is not so brisk a brew as ale:

Out of a stem that scored the hand

I wrung it in a weary land.

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;

And I will friend you, if I may,

In the dark and cloudy day.


There was a king reigned in the East:

There, when kings will sit to feast,

They get their fill before they think

With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.

He gathered all the springs to birth

From the many-venomed earth;

First a little, thence to more,

He sampled all her killing store;

And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,

Sate the king when healths went round.

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:

Them it was their poison hurt.

–I tell the tale that I heard told.

Mithridates, he died old.




Here is my entry. I posted it on the boarded-up door to Hank Dietles, the oldest bar in Montgomery County. There was a fire there about two years ago and it hasn’t reopened because they haven’t been able to make all the repairs.


I first read this poem in high school English at [Georgetown] Prep, just two blocks from Dietles. I always liked it because it presents a good life lesson in a very clever way. If the proprietors of Dietles had read this poem before the fire, they would surely be open by now. Also, the beer references in the poem fit with the Dietles experience.




[Please note: the man in the video is not my brother Donny.]

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