Alfred Housman

Alfred Edward Housman, a classical scholar and poet, was born in Fockbury in the
county of Worcestershire, England on March 26, 1859. His poems are variations on
the themes of mortality and the miseries of human condition (Magill 1411). Most
of Housmanís poems were written in the 1890ís when he was under great
psychological stress, which made the tone of his poems characteristically
mournful and the mood dispirited (Magill 1411). "In the world of Housmanís
poetry, youth fades to dust, lovers are unfaithful, and death is the tranquil
end of everything (Magill 1412)." Throughout his life, Housman faced many
hardships. The loss of his mother at age 12 shattered his childhood and left him
with tremendous feelings of loneliness, from which he never fully recovered. His
father began to drink as a result of his motherís death and began a long slide
into poverty. When Housman went to college, he had a deep and lasting friendship
with Moses Jackson. He had developed a passionate attachment and fallen in love
with him. When the relationship did not work out, Housman plunged into a
suicidal gloom which was to persist at intervals for the rest of his life. His
declaration that "I have seldom written poetry unless I was rather out of
health," seems to support the opinion that emotional trauma greatly influenced
his work. The only way to relieve himself from this state of melancholy was by
writing (Magill 1409). As a result of Housmanís poor childhood and
misfortunes, he devoted most of his life to erudition and poetry. He was
educated at Bromsgrove school and won a scholarship to Oxford University, where
he studied classical literature and philosophy. After graduating from Oxford, he
became a professor of Latin, first at University College and later at Cambridge

University. He was a knowledgeable and scholarly individual who was fluent in
five languages (Magill 1405). Over a period of fifty years, Housman gave many
enlightening lectures, wrote numerous critical papers and reviews, and three
volumes of poetry. In all of his poetry, Housman continually returns to certain
preferred themes. The most common theme discussed in the poems is time and the
inevitability of death. He views time and aging as horrible processes and has
the attitude that each day one lives is a day closer to death Cleanth Brooks
stated, "Time is, with Housman, always the enemy." The joy and beauty of
life is darkened by the shadow of fast approaching death (Discovering Authors

7). He often uses symbolism to express death, therefore the reader has to look
into the true meaning of the poem to see itís connection with death. Another
frequent theme in Housmanís poetry is the attitude that the universe is cruel
and hostile, created by a god who has abandoned it. R. Kowalczyk summed up this
common theme when he stated: Housmanís poetic characters fail to find divine
love in the universe. They confront the enormity of space and realize that they
are victims of Natureís blind forces. A number of Housmanís lyrics
scrutinize with cool, detached irony the impersonal universe, the vicious world
in which man was placed to endure his fated existence (Discovering Authors 8).

Housman believed that God created our universe and left us in this unkind world
to fend for ourselves. The majority of Housmanís poems are short and simple.

It is not difficult to analyze his writing or find the true meaning of his
poems. However, the directness and simplicity of much of Housmanís poetry were
viewed as faults. Many critics view Housmanís poetry as "adolescent", thus
he is considered a minor poet. The range of meter that Housman uses varies from
four to sixteen syllables in length. John Macdonald claims "What is remarkable
about Housmanís poetry is the amount and the sublety variation within a single
stanza, and the almost uncanny felicity with which the stresses of the metrical
pattern coincide with the normal accents of the sentence (Discovering Authors

11)." Housman uses monosyllabic and simple words in his poetry, but the words
that he chooses to use fit together rhythmically and express the idea with a
clear image. To express his vivid images Housman uses epithets, which are words
or phrases that state a particular quality about someone or something (English

Tradition 1399). Housman uses epithets sparingly, but when he uses them they are
creative and original: such phrases as "light-leaved spring," the bluebells
of the listless plain," and "golden friends" make his poetry decorative
and filled with imagery (British Writers 162). In 1896, A Shropshire Lad was
published at the expense of Housman himself.