glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Housman, A. E. (1859-1936)  
page: 1  2  3  

Three other homosexually based A Shropshire Lad poems could only be certified as such by readers with inside knowledge--44 and 45, the two Woolwich cadet poems (Laurence found the newspaper clipping about the suicide inserted next to the poems in Alfred's personal copy of A Shropshire Lad), and 22, the poem that refers to male-male eye-contact and the "single redcoat," alluding to the Royal Guards, which was known at the time to be a common source of male prostitution.

Laurence Housman also cites the well-known 30, in which "Fear contended with desire" and "fire and ice within me fight," as rooted in Alfred's homosexual conflicts.

Last Poems

Suggesting Housman's increasing defiance of the taboo of homosexual "unspeakableness" with age, the same patterns recur more pointedly in Last Poems. Here only three poems (of forty-two) clearly recount heterosexual situations, three leave the gender of the beloved unspecified (though biographical knowledge would identify 26's "wide apart lie we, my love" as for Jackson), and thirteen are preoccupied with "lads," "friends," and "comrades."

Some of these give themselves away even more glaringly than their A Shropshire Lad counterparts. The speaker of 32 declares that "in boyhood / . . . It was not . . . sweethearts to be kind, / But . . . friends to die for / That I would seek"; and in 24, the retrospective epithalamium Housman wrote for Jackson's wedding (all the more poignant since Housman was excluded from it entirely), he describes himself as the "Friend and comrade [who] yield[s] you o'er / To her that hardly loves you more."

But the most blatant of the Last Poems is the unusually long "Hell Gate" (31), an allegory of homosexual resistance in which two warrior-comrades defeat Sin and Death at the gate of hell and go off together on "the homeward track": "Tyranny and terror flown / Left a pair of friends alone, / . . . All that stirred was he and I."

In addition, Laurence Housman has identified number 12, perhaps Last Poems' most famous poem ("Keep we must, if keep we can, / These foreign laws of God and man"), as a record of Alfred's struggle as a homosexual with his dominant heterosexual society.

More Poems

Housman's posthumous volumes contain some protective poems he could have published in his lifetime (indeed, More Poems 18 and 23, two of the book's three heterosexual pieces, are rejects from Last Poems), but they are notable chiefly for their unprecedentedly frank depictions of Housman's homosexual experience and concerns.

More Poems has forthright poems about Jackson--12, 30, and the famous 31 ("Because I liked you better / Than suits a man to say")--as well as Housman's romantic elegies for Adalbert (41, 42) and his declaration of the end of his affair with the Venetian gondolier, Andrea (44).

(From the little evidence that exists about it now, Housman's later active erotic life seems to have taken place entirely during his annual summer trips to the continent. In addition to letting slip references to Andrea, Housman mentioned a young Frenchman traveling companion and the Paris "bains de vapeur"--turkish baths--to English friends.)

Moreover, as suggested above, More Poems' introductory poem--"This is for all ill-treated fellows"--seems Housman's clearest statement that his primary intended audience was other male homosexuals.

Additional Poems

Fittingly, the shorter Additional Poems has no heterosexual texts at all. Further frank poems about Jackson appear--2 ("Oh were he and I together") and 7 ("He would not stay for me")--plus the threat to break homosexual silence implied in 6 ("Ask me no more, for fear I should reply").

Additional Poems' most notable work is arguably "Oh who is that young sinner" (18), Housman's fiercely empathetic poem about Wilde, written shortly after Wilde's conviction and one of the most important texts in the history of gay literature.

Besides showing Housman's awareness of the history and language of gay oppression ("In the good old time 'twas hanging," "'Tis a shame to human nature"), Housman's ironic method in the poem offers the fullest demonstration in his work that his occasionally depressive statements about homosexuality should not be taken at face value.

Here--as in A Shropshire Lad 45's "your sickness is your soul," More Poems 12's "unlucky love," and More Poems 21's "cursed trouble"--Housman's deliberate and repeated use of the language of society ("He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair") is his means of stirring his readers to oppose that society.

Joseph Cady

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature

   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  Elegy

A poetic response to the death of a greatly loved person, the elegy has had since classical times a homoerotic component.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Nineteenth Century

From its beginning, the nineteenth century in England had a purposeful homosexual literature of considerable bulk, both male and female, though it was fettered by oppression.

literature >> Overview:  Poetry: Gay Male

The gay tradition in literature from ancient times to the present is primarily a tradition not of prose but of verse.

literature >> Ackerley, J. R.

A twentieth-century British editor who fostered the careers of a number of important gay writers, J. R. Ackerley also wrote a small but significant body of gay literature that includes memoirs and drama.

literature >> Forster, E. M.

One of the finest English novelists of the twentieth century and a tireless defender of humane values, Forster deserves a special place in the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

arts >> Leopold, Nathan F. (1904-1971), and Richard A. Loeb (1905-1936)

The case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who gained notoriety for the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy in 1924, has since become a staple of popular culture, inspiring numerous books, films, and plays.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Bayley, John. Housman's Poems. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

Graves, Richard Perceval. A. E. Housman: The Scholar-Poet. New York: Scribner's, 1980.

Housman, Laurence. "A. E. Housman's 'De Amicitia' (Annotated by John Carter)." Encounter 30.4 (October 1967): 33-41.

Page, Norman. A. E. Housman: A Critical Biography. New York: Schocken, 1983.

Ricks, Christopher, ed. A. E. Housman: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968.


    Citation Information
    Author: Cady, Joseph  
    Entry Title: Housman, A. E.  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 24, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.