‘Into my heart an air that kills’

I missed a chance to be topical the other day. James Dyson, the founder of Dyson, a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, took aim at Britain’s poor, maligned education system for not turning out enough science graduates and having too many pupils studying ‘French lesbian poetry’. Alas, while there is both French poetry and poetry by lesbians on my bookshelves, French Lesbian poetry is in short supply.

The debate (such as it was) had a familiar ring to it, however: it was only the past June that Britain was last debating poetry in schools, after Education Secretary Michael Gove recommended that primary school children should be learning poetry by heart. This issue was brought up on the programme, Question Time, where the panelists were asked if they could recite poetry they learnt as children. The panelists, mostly politicians, took turns mocking the idea of learning poetry until the writer and journalist Peter Hitchens rose to the challenge and recited the Housman poem below.

He also gave a bravura defence of poetry in school and derided ‘educational philistinism’ in general. Hear hear! Hitchen’s poem of choice is interesting in that it seems to fit his idea that the England of the past is disappearing, a point of view he expounds compellingly in his blog. Being a ‘Shropshire Lad’ poem, of course, it’s about memories, loss and, yes, again, death. It is beautiful, though – furnish your minds with beauty, indeed!


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.


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