A. E. Housman Poems

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A. E. Housman
Housman was born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, the eldest of seven children of a country solicitor. His brother Laurence Housman and sister Clemence Housman also became writers. Housman was educated first at King Edward's School, then Bromsgrove School, where he acquired a strong academic grounding and won prizes for his poetry. In 1877 he won an open scholarship to St John's College, Oxford, where he studied classics. He was a brilliant student, gaining first class honours in classical moderations, but a withdrawn person whose only friends were his roommates Moses Jackson and A. W. Pollard. Housman had sexual feelings for Jackson which were rejected as Jackson was heterosexual (Summers ed. 1995:371, Page 2004). This rejection could explain Housman's unexpected failure in his final exams (the "Greats) in 1881 (Cunningham 2000:981). Housman took this failure very seriously but managed to take the exams for a pass degree the next year, after a brief period of teaching in Bromsgrove School. After graduating, Jackson got a job as a clerk in the Patent Office in London and arranged a job there for Housman as well. They shared an apartment with Jackson's brother Adalbert until 1885 when Housman moved in to lodgings of his own. Moses Jackson married and moved to Karachi, India in 1887 and Adalbert Jackson died in 1892. Housman continued pursuing classical studies independently and published scholarly articles on such authors as Horace, Propertius, Ovid, Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. He gradually acquired such a high reputation that in 1892 he was offered the professorship of Latin at University College London, which he accepted. Although Housman's sphere of responsibilities as professor included both Latin and Greek, he put most of his energy into the study of Latin classics. His reputation in this field grew steadily, and in 1911 he took the Kennedy Professorship of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained for the rest of his life. It was unusual at the time for an Oxford man such as Housman to be hired at Cambridge. During 19031930, he published his critical edition of Manilius's Astronomicon in five volumes. He also edited works of Juvenal (1905) and Lucan (1926). Many colleagues were afraid of his scathing critical attacks on those whom he found guilty of unscholarly sloppiness. To his students he appeared as a severe, reticent, remote authority. The only pleasures he allowed himself in his spare time were those of gastronomy which he also practised on frequent visits to France (Page 2004). Housman always found his true vocation in classical studies and treated poetry as a secondary activity. He never spoke about his poetry in public until 1933 when he gave a lecture, "The Name and Nature of Poetry", in which he argued that poetry should appeal to emotions rather than intellect. He died two years later in Cambridge. His ashes are buried near St Laurence's Church, Ludlow, Shropshire. During his years in London, A E Housman completed his cycle of 63 poems, A Shropshire Lad. After several publishers had turned it down, he published it at his own expense in 1896. The volume surprised both his colleagues and students. At first the book sold slowly, but Housman's nostalgic depiction of brave English soldiers struck a chord with English readers and his poems became a lasting success. Later, World War I further increased their popularity. Housman was surprised by the success of A Shropshire Lad because it, like all his poetry, is imbued with a deep pessimism and an obsession with all-pervasive death, with no place for the consolations of religion. Set in a half-imaginative pastoral Shropshire, "the land of lost content" (in fact Housman wrote most of the poems before ever visiting the place), the poems explore themes of fleetingness of love and decay of youth in a spare, uncomplicated style which many critics of the time found out of date compared with the exuberance of some of his late Victorian contemporaries. Housman himself acknowledged the influence of the songs of William Shakespeare, the Scottish Border Ballads and Heinrich Heine, but specifically denied any influence of Greek and Latin classics in his poetry. In the early 1920s, when Moses Jackson was dying in Canada, Housman wanted to assemble his best unpublished poems together so that Jackson could read them before his death. These later poems, most of them written before 1910, show a greater variety of subject and form than those in A Shropshire Lad but also a certain lack of the kind of consistency found in his previously published work. He published them as his Last Poems (1922) because he thought that his poetic inspiration was running out and that he would not publish any more poems in his lifetime. This proved true. After his death Housman's brother, Laurence, published further poems which appeared in More Poems (1936) and Collected Poems (1939). He also deposited an essay entitled "A. E. Housman's 'De Amicitica'" in the British Library in 1942 (with the proviso that it was not to be published for twenty-five years). The essay discussed A. E. Housman's homosexuality and his love for Jackson (Summers ed. 1995: 371). Given the conservative nature of the times it is not surprising that there was no unambiguous autobiographical statement about Housman's sexuality during his life. In Last Poems we have no. VI, 'Lancer,' in which he goes for a soldier, with its refrain, 'O who would not sleep with the brave?' More Poems was more explicit, as in no. 31 about Jackson 'Because I liked you better / Than suits a man to say' (Summers ed. 1995:372). His poem 'Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?', written after the trial of Oscar Wilde showed that he also explored the more general question of societal injustice regarding homosexuality in addition to his personal emotions (Housman 1937:213). In the poem the prisoner is suffering 'for the colour of his hair' a natural and God-given attribute which - in a clearly coded reference to homosexuality - is regarded as 'nameless and abominable' (recalling the legal phrase 'peccatum horribile, inter christianos non nominandum', 'the horrible sin, not to be named amongst Christians'). Housman also wrote a parodic Fragment of a Greek Tragedy, in English, and humorous poems published posthumously under the title Unkind to Unicorns. John Sparrow John Hanbury Angus Sparrow (see above) cites a letter written before he died in which Housman describes how his poems came into existence: "Poetry was for him ...'a morbid secretion', as the pearl is for the oyster. The desire, or the need, did not come upon him often, and it came usually when he was feeling ill or depressed; then whole lines and stanzas would present themselves to him without any effort, or any consciousness of composition on his part. Sometimes they wanted a little alteration, sometime none; sometimes the lines needed in order to make a complete poem would come later, spontaneously or with 'a little coaxing'; sometimes he had to sit down and finish the poem with his head. That .... was a long and laborious process ... " On this, he adds as a footnote later in the preface:- "How difficult it is to achieve a satisfactory analysis may be judged by considering the last poem in A Shropshire Lad. Of its four stanzas, Housman tells us that two were 'given' him ready made; one was coaxed forth from his subconsciousness an hour or two later; the remaining one took months of conscious composition. No one can tell for certain which was which."

sable island
 
 
Dark Isle of Mourning--aptly art thou named,
For thou hast been the cause of many a tear;... [read poem]
a shropshire lad - xv
 
 
Look not in my eyes, for fear
They mirror true the sight I see,
And there you find your fa... [read poem]
a shropshire lad xxvi: along the field as we came by
 
 
Along the field as we came by
A year ago, my love and I,
The aspen over stile and stone... [read poem]
to the town clock
 
 
Thou grave old Time Piece, many a time and oft
I've been your debtor for the time of day;... [read poem]
the colour of his hair
 
 
Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after, that ... [read poem]
look, delia, how we 'steem the half-blown rose (delia xxxix)
 
 
Look, Delia, how we 'steem the half-blown Rose,
The image of thy blush and Summer's honor,... [read poem]
here dead we lie
 
 
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we s... [read poem]
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