Yr 8 Poetry Study: Eight O’Clock by AE Housman

In this poem, Housman attempts to overthrow the idea that humans are insignificant. Generally, Housman assumes that we are egocentric; that is, we believe we are the centre of the universe. He dismantles this idea using several poetic techniques.

Eight O’Clock by A. E. Housman

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.

Questions:

  1. Why is the title of this poem important?
  2. What is “sprinkling” quarters on the town?
  3. What does the verb “sprinkle” tell us about the nature of this thing? Does it care?
  4. What does this, in turn, suggest about who has the power in this situation – the clock or the man?
  5. There are two meanings to the word “morning” (a double connotation). Describe what they are and describe why both of them fit.
  6. The rhythm of “One, two, three, four” is very strong. Describe how Housman has created strength in the rhythm and then suggest why it is important that the rhythm be strong in these lines.
  7. What does the word “tossed” suggest about the nature of the clock?
  8. “Nighing” means nearing. Why would Housman have used “nighing” instead of nearing?
  9. Housman personifies the clock. Find words that indicate that the clock has been personified and suggest reasons for this. (Remember to discuss the themes of this poem).
  10. We are concentrating on connecting sound to meaning. Sound should always contribute to the general meaning of the poem. How does the word “struck” add to the meaning of the poem, both in terms of literal meaning and sound?

Writing Task

Narrate this event from the clock’s point of view, extending Housman’s personification. Indicate your attitude to the whole event. 10 lines.

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