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literature

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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.

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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

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    Bibliography
   

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 www.glbtq.com/literature/housman_ae.html  
    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  
 

 

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