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Housman, A. E. (1859-1936)  
 
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Jackson lived abroad for the rest of his life, and, except for a few short visits to England, his and Housman's later relationship was conducted entirely by letter. Housman seems to have continued seeing Adalbert Jackson in London until his death, however, and in his later life, the only portraits on display in his Cambridge rooms were two photographs of the Jackson brothers over the fireplace.

Contemporary homosexual readers sensed a kinship in Housman's verse. Oscar Wilde's friend Robert Ross, for example, learned some of A Shropshire Lad by heart to recite to him in prison. And after the posthumous books mainstream critics became more vocal--one reviewer of More Poems proposed that "intense love came to him in the guise of 'the love that dares not speak its name.'"

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But Housman's sexual orientation did not become indisputable public knowledge until 1967, with the appearance of Laurence Housman's "A. E. Housman's 'De Amicitia,'" an essay he wrote around 1940 and had deposited in 1942 with the British Museum, stipulating that it not be published for twenty-five years.

There Laurence discusses Alfred frankly as homosexual and, through his own recollections and evidence like Housman's till-then unpublished diary for 1888 through 1890, chronicles Housman's lifelong love for Jackson and his briefer relationship with Adalbert; he also identifies the Housman poems he believes most autobiographical.

Little primary documentation of the Housman-Jackson relationship survives: All of their letters were destroyed, except for their last to each other, and Housman's to Jackson is in private hands and cannot be printed or quoted.

Housman and Homosexual Persecution

The other homosexual root to Housman's poetic career was his anger at homosexual suffering and persecution. Part of the "continuous excitement" that Housman said led him to compose most of the poems of A Shropshire Lad quickly in 1894-1895 was his agitation at Oscar Wilde's conviction in May 1895 and at the suicide of a young homosexual Woolwich naval cadet described in the newspaper in August of the same year.

He wrote intense, ironic poems about each (Additional Poems 18, A Shropshire Lad 44 and 45) and sent Wilde an autographed copy of A Shropshire Lad on his release from prison.

Housman and a Community of Homosexual Readers

Relatedly, despite the universal application traditionally given to his poems, Housman seems to have written chiefly to support and encourage a beleaguered male homosexual community of readers.

This intention is clearly implied by the fact that he did not destroy his franker unpublished poems but left them to Laurence's disposal; he also conveys it metaphorically in A Shropshire Lad 63 ("up and down I sow them / For lads like me to find") and states it more bluntly in the introductory poem to More Poems ("This is for all ill-treated fellows / . . . For them to read when they're in trouble / And I am not").

As mentioned, some contemporary homosexual readers recognized this dimension of Housman, and continuing the pattern, in subsequent years his work provided a catch term for homosexual identity among British male homosexuals. In his 1968 autobiography, My Father and Myself, J. R. Ackerley, for example, refers to the continental countries where "one was not in danger of arrest and imprisonment for the colour of one's hair," alluding to the metaphor Housman used for homosexuality in his Oscar Wilde poem.

The Poems Published in Housman's Lifetime

In his poems published in his lifetime, Housman understandably presents his homosexual feelings and consciousness in coded ways though sometimes he punctures those codes daringly.

A Shropshire Lad

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. Particularly intense examples of the latter tactic are the classic "To an Athlete Dying Young" (19) and poems 23, 35, and 42.

Some of the book's more assertively homosexual poems stretch the "lad" or "friend" frames to make near-blatant romantic statements--for example, 24 and, especially, 33 ("I think the love I bear you / Should make you not to die"). The speaker's legacy of his "flowers" to "luckless lads . . . like me" in the book's final poem (63) also seems, as mentioned, a metaphorical statement of Housman's underlying homosexual intention in his work as a whole.

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