“Eight O’Clock” -Poem 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
.

The entire poem is in just 55 words, a lot of sound and meaning (not fury). The sound emanates from meaning and also the other way round. In one moment the steeple tosses quarters down on marketplace and people, making meaning of sound. The poem words are sound like the quarters sprinkled on the morning town by the steeple clock.And that is how the subject hears them.

Sprinking is gentle and soft on the morning town . But tossing them down on people and marketplace is a violent mixture of sound and meaning. There is speed in the words as if they are leading up to the death of the convict-an inexorable time ticking one,two, three..

The interesting thing is how the passage of time affects each :

He heard the steeple sprinkle the quarters on the morning town.

Time affects the morning town as it has always. Soft and sibilant. This moment has no special meaning for the morning town.

One ,two, three,four,to marketplace and people
It tossed them down.

People and marketplace go about their business as usual and the passage of time at this moment is just like what it has always been. Normally the sound of the quarters at this moment should not have meaning for them but there is anticipation in the town about the hanging to take place at eight o’clock . It is likely people have either no empathy with the person to be hanged or are plain indifferent. May be they are looking at the hanging as just punishment for the crime alleged against him. That is perhaps why the quarters are tossed down to an expectant crowd .

...he stood and counted them and cursed his luck

The only one that is concerned about the quarters of time is the man about to be hanged – he who counts them and curses his luck. He curses his luck perhaps because he had committed the crime and had the misfortune of being caught.Till he was strapped and noosed,the hour was far away. There was an outside chance of escaping the hanging, either by way of a pardon or by some last minute intervention. Now that he is already on the scaffold the hour is neighing and the count begins. Every sound of the clock has meaning for him.

And then the clock collected in the tower
Its strength and struck
.

Now this is where the clock assumes a personality to become a part of the hanging scene.The clock tower has a role in the inevitability of death . It almost assumes a sinister role in the hanging. It collects all the strength in the clock tower and strikes the hour of death.

Why such a massive gathering of strength? Because there is a hesitancy in the process , caused by inherent possibility of error, a miscarriage of justice. A polemic about the place for capital punishment in a modern civil society.

Let us gather all the sounds flowing from meaning:

Sprinkle the quarters on the morning town‘ is a soft aural sound containing the early morning ticks of the steeple clock.

It tossed them down” .No more sprinkling but a quicker ,an almost violent act of throwing. There is ruthlessness about it and inevitabilty. From the sound of the word “tossed” emerges meaning.

Strapped ,noosed,neighing his hour” The sounds of three long vowels coming one after the other convey a hopeless situation.

and then the clock collected in the tower
All its strength and struck.

The clock becomes sinister , the way it gathers up its strength and strikes. “Struck” is onamatopaeic and after it , everything comes to the end.

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