Friday, March 31, 2006

A E Housman

When I would muse in boyhood
The wild green woods among,
And nurse resolves and fancies
Because the world was young,
It was not foes to conquer,
Nor sweethearts to be kind,
But it was friends to die for
That I would seek and find.

I sought them and I found them,
The sure, the straight, the brave,
The hearts I lost my own to,
The souls I could not save.
They braced their belts around them,
They crossed in ships the sea,
They sought and found six feet of ground,
And there they died for me.

From 'Last Poems' by A E Housman


More poems at:

Joseph Cady at has written about A E Housman and his poetry, including A Shropshire Lad (1896). There is also an article on Housman at :

The following is based partly on the information in these articles.

Housman held the Chair of Latin at Cambridge from 1911.

Housman loved Moses Jackson an Oxford classmate. Jackson was the subject of Housman's most autobiographical poems.

When Housman first went to Oxford in 1877, he shared rooms with Jackson.

Later, Housman shared London lodgings with Jackson and his younger brother Adalbert.

Adalbert and Housman seem to have had an affair, and Housman wrote two moving tributes (More Poems 41 and 42) to him after his sudden death from typhoid in 1892.

In late 1885, 'a breach occurred between Housman and Jackson'.

Jackson moved to India to teach in 1887.

Jackson lived abroad for most of the rest of his life. He made a few short visits to England. He continued to write to Housman.

Housman seems to have continued seeing Adalbert Jackson in London until his death.

In 1900 A. E. Housman was on holiday in Venice when he befriended a 23-year-old gondolier, Andrea. A. E. Housman then visited regularly.

A. E. Housman also travelled to Paris and Italy regularly to indulge in his gastronomic and sexual tastes.

Housman was angered by persecution of homosexuals. Housman was inspired to write A Shropshire Lad partly because of Oscar Wilde's conviction in 1895 and partly because of the suicide of a young naval cadet in 1895.

He wrote poems about each (Additional Poems 18, A Shropshire Lad 44 and 45).

Cady writes:

Housman seems to have written chiefly to support and encourage a beleaguered male homosexual community of readers... He conveys it metaphorically in A Shropshire Lad 63 ("up and down I sow them / For lads like me to find")

I HOED and trenched and weeded,
And took the flowers to fair:
I brought them home unheeded;
The hue was not the wear.

So up and down I sow them
For lads like me to find,
When I shall lie below them,
A dead man out of mind.

Some seed the birds devour,
And some the season mars,
But here and there will flower
The solitary stars,

And fields will yearly bear them
As light-leaved spring comes on,
And luckless lads will wear them
When I am dead and gone.

Cady explains that in A Shropshire Lad, only eight of the sixty-three poems clearly depict heterosexual situations, and of the other personal lyrics, five leave the gender of the beloved unspecified (a common device in earlier homosexual writing), and seventeen fasten on "lads," "friends," or other male figures.

Last Poems

Some of these are about "lads," "friends," and "comrades."

Housman writes:

"Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man"

More Poems has poems about Jackson (12, 30, and 31), Adalbert (41, 42) and the Venetian gondolier, Andrea (44).

Additional Poems

"Oh who is that young sinner" (18), is about Oscar Wilde.


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