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Analysis

There's nothing too fancy about this poem's sound. We hear the stiff, steady beat of a drum in its lines, and the regular sound of marching feet. Even when Housman is talking about a guy falling down drunk in the mud, he never lets the beat drop. It gives the whole feeling a matter-of-fact sound, as if it wanted to discourage any messing around. It's not that this poem doesn't have a sense of humor—there are definitely some funny lines in here (okay, maybe not hilarious, but amusing). It's just that the sound of it keeps up a steady, calm and actually kind of somber feeling.

Remember, everything is moving slowly towards a confrontation with sadness here. To that end, we think there's a kind of funerial sound to this poem, as if those steady drums were playing while a casket was being lowered into the ground. Another thing that helps give this impression is the fact that Housman mostly sticks to short, sharp little words, which are mostly single syllables. Check out this line: "There, when kings will sit to feast" (60). Hear the sharp, steady, rat-tat-tat in that line?

Every now and then, though, there's a little trill, a moment of excitement in the sound that breaks the pattern, like in the last line, with the long, weird, beautiful word "Mithridates." This poem also had fun with little moments of alliteration, like "Livelier liquor" (20), "pewter pot" (25), and "Moping melancholy mad" (13) that break up the even, regular feel of "Terence." These flourishes are testaments to the art of poetry itself. They remind us that even the most anti-poetry parts of this poem are, in fact, represented in a poem. For that reason, as well as Terrence's final points, poetry seems to win the day.

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