There is not much critical writing on A E Housman, and little that is indispensable. All the more reason to welcome this marvellous new study of the poetry - not a biographical account, but perfectly willing to admit the poet's uneventful life as a witness when needs be. 'My book is more interesting than its man,' Housman wrote to his publisher, but as Professor Bayley shows, a book such as A Shropshire Lad is itself a slow and secretive revealing of the man. This, Bayley argues, sets him apart from the manufactured persona of Yeats, say, and puts more him in the company of Larkin and Hardy, on a painful yet often jaunty path of self-recognition. Housman has been much mocked this century, in part because at one time he was blithely admired by a broad public; but Bayley's book is more than a rearguard action. It comes out fighting for the virtues of the verse - 'explosive but demure', at once casual and compelled by ceremony, quite at home with the romantic and sexual impossibilities which it contemplates. Nobody will concur with all of the readings here, and one might have liked more on the force of classical precedent, but any disagreement is only likely to send us back afresh to the work. 'The man of grief has always tried to be glad,' says the critic of the poet, and his own enlivening wit draws us further towards the heart of Housman's grief, and make us glad to be there.
THE THEATRICAL NOTEBOOKS
OF SAMUEL BECKETT: KRAPP'S LAST TAPE, ed. James Knowlson, Faber pounds 50
This is the fourth in a series reproducing Beckett's production notebooks in facsimile. In October 1969, Beckett oversaw a version of Krapp's Last Tape at the Schiller-Theater, Berlin, and cut and modified the original text, written 11 years earlier. The revisions were designed to make more stark the contrasts between noise and silence and between immobility and movement, without making the play look like the product of a scheme. It cost him some effort - 100 sheets of graph paper, worrying away at every detail, from big business with the props to the slightest head movements. Just to complicate things further, his jottings are normally in French or German, but James Knowlson provides the translations and a clear passage through the scribble.
PABLO'S WAR by Pablo Mason, Bloomsbury pounds 16.99
Everyone remembers Pablo. All the other British fighter pilots in the Gulf war looked young and lean and clean-cut; Pablo looked like Jimmy Edwards, a slice of Biggin Hill that had somehow slipped through 50 years of time- warp. He modestly says little of his former career in helicopters, as a legendary hedge-hopper with the troops in Northern Ireland; this book deals with his second wind, after he had made the unusual switch to Tornados. Pablo's War is not nearly as bluff as one might imagine; amid the thrills of recorded combat, it is by turns scornful, perplexed, proud and indignant. There is one dreadful tale, for instance, of officers having their flying pay withdrawn after they had been shot down, captured and tortured by the Iraqis. Pablo was always known for denting top brass, and you can see why. He is now retired from the RAF.