Shropshire: A Place of Imagined Sexual Contentment
Published in 1869, A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad stands as one of the most socially acclaimed collections of English poetry from the Victorian age. This period in British history, however, proves, by judiciary focus (the Criminal Law Amendment of 1885), to be conflictive with Housman's own internal conflicts concerning the homoerotic tendencies which he discovered in his admiration of fellow Oxford student Moses Jackson. Housman, much unlike other English literary figures such as Oscar Wilde and Thomas hardy, was not an artist who found it necessary to directly confront Britain with any political dissention imposed by is works. Instead, "for Housman the discovery of self was so disturbing and disconcerting that poetry came as a way of disclosing it" (Bayley 44). The county of Shropshire is central to much of his poetry, but it is employed merely as "a personification of the writer's memories, dreams and affections;" meanwhile, Housman's central character is one "who could at once be himself and not himself" (Scott-Kilvert 26). In what Housman himself regarded to be one of his best poems, "XXVII: Is my team ploughing," the focus is placed upon a conversation between a dead man and one of his friends from his previous life (Housman 18). "XXII: The street sounds to the soldiers' tread;" meanwhile, expresses an emotional wonder discovered in the eyes of a passing soldier (Housman 15). Both the ambiguous quality of the dead man's last question (18 ll. 25-26) in poem XXVII and the nature of the chance encounter in XXII stand to exemplify the subtle undercurrent of Housman's own enigmatic sexuality.
"Is my team ploughing" is in the form of "the primitive ballad metres, which Housman revived," and primarily "employed for a poetry not of action but of introspection" (Scott-Kilvert 25). The piece begins by the dead man's...
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