The Poetry of A. E. Housman

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  • Topic: Poetry, A Shropshire Lad, Shropshire
  • Pages : 3 (878 words )
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  • Published : May 11, 2000
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Housman was born in Burton-On-Trent, England, in 1865, just as the US Civil War was ending. As a young child, he was disturbed by the news of slaughter from the former British colonies, and was affected deeply. This turned him into a brooding, introverted teenager and a misanthropic, pessimistic adult. This outlook on life shows clearly in his poetry.

Housman believed that people were generally evil, and that life conspired against mankind. This is evident not only in his poetry, but also in his short stories. For example, his story, "The Child of Lancashire," published in 1893 in The London Gazette, is about an child who travels to London, where his parents die, and he becomes a street urchin. There are veiled implications that the child is a homosexual (as was Housman, most probably), and he becomes mixed up with a gang of similar youths, attacking affluent pedestrians and stealing their watches and gold coins. Eventually he leaves the gang and becomes wealthy, but is attacked by the same gang (who don't recognize him) and is thrown off London Bridge into the Thames, which is unfortunately frozen over, and is killed on the hard ice below.

Housman's poetry is similarly pessimistic. In fully half the poems the speaker is dead. In others, he is about to die or wants to die, or his girlfriend is dead. Death is a really important stage of life to Housman; without death, Housman would probably not have been able to be a poet. (Housman, himself, died in 1937.) A few of his poems show an uncharacteristic optimism and love of beauty, however. For example, in his poem "Trees," he begins

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Hung low with bloom along the bow
Stands about the woodland side
A virgin in white for Eastertide

and ends

Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree.

(This is a popular quotation, yet most people don't know its source!) Religion is another theme of...
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