With rue my heart is laden For golden friends I had, For many a rose-lipped maiden And many a lightfoot lad. By brooks too broad for leaping The lightfoot boys are laid; The rose-lipped girls are sleeping In fields where roses fade.
With Rue My Heart Is Laden - Poem by Alfred Edward Housman
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He is speaking metaphorically. It was common, in the English countryside, for village lads to entertain themselves by seeing who could leap across small streams, sometimes with the assistance of a long pole that was pushed down into the water. The boy would come running with pole in hand, like a pole vaulter, and then would push the end of the long pole down into the stream and swing himself up into the air and across to the other bank.
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Of course either way, anyone who did not do it just right or was not agile enough would fall into the water. And of course we know that in mourning them, the writer is also mourning the loss of his own youth and the years that are no more.
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- Housman’s “With Rue My Heart Is Laden” (No. 123, Ch. 11).
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That is the reality of life in the world. Nothing lasts, no matter how pleasant, no matter how beautiful.
With Rue My Heart Is Laden
Part of our spiritual path in life is accepting that hard reality without letting the realization become destructive. We must not be too weighed down by the rue of remembrance of things past, but instead must learn to live in the present and appreciate our loved ones while we have them, knowing they will not be with us always.
That is a lesson hard for young people to learn, because it is the nature of the young to feel emotionally that they will live forever, even though their rational minds tell them otherwise. The great gift of Alfred Edward Housman was the beautiful simplicity of his verse and how faithfully it reveals the bittersweet impermanence of life, the temporary nature of all things.