Seamus Cooney
Department of English
Western Michigan University

A. E. Housman

Eight O'Clock

He stood, and heard the steeple
      Sprinkle the quarters on the morning town.
One, two, three, four, to market-place and people
     It tossed them down.

Strapped, noosed, nighing his hour,
      He stood and counted them and cursed his luck;
And then the clock collected in the tower
      Its strength, and struck.


Do you like that? feel its power? admire its contrivance? find its tone and emotion congenial? I should add that it's English in origin, where market-places and public chiming clocks are common.

Is it clear to you what situation Housman is conjuring up? I think he means it to be clear, but he doesn't want to come right out and name it. So this poem too, like many another, is a kind of riddle. I invite you to submit your solution below.

We should probably think of the setting as late 19th century, although the poem was published in 1922.

In this poem, syntax plays an effective part -- and rhyme.


  • Return to index of poems