Friday poem: 'He would not stay for me, and who can wonder'

08 April 2016

By A. E. Housman

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
  He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand, and tore my heart in sunder,
  And went with half my life about my ways.
 

This week's poem was chosen by Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs To You

'I've long been haunted by these four lines by A.E. Housman. Everything in the poem is understated, from the speaker's desire ('to stand and gaze') and resignation ('and who can wonder?') to the plainness of the diction and evenness of the iambs. Direct, unadorned, devastating, this seems to me an ideal of poetry.' 

'A rich, important debut, an instant classic to be savoured by all lovers of serious fiction' - The New York Times Book Review

'Language as beautiful and vivid as poetry' - Hanya Yanagihara

'An uncommonly sensitive, intelligent and poignant novel’ - Sunday Times

'Erotic holding, emotional withholding and the question of who holds power in a relationship are all examined in a work which gripped me all the way to its sad and beautiful ending’  - Independent on Sunday

On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher walks down a staircase beneath Sofia's National Palace of Culture, looking for sex. Among the stalls of a public bathroom he encounters Mitko, a charismatic young hustler. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, and their trysts grow increasingly intimate and unnerving as the enigma of this young man becomes inseparable from that of his homeland.

Lyrical and intense, What Belongs To You is the story of an expat struggling with his own complicated inheritance while navigating a foreign culture, faced with the impossibility of understanding those he most longs to know.  

>>> Read a chapter from What Belongs To You

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