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A.E. Housman

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I've recently discovered the poetry of A.E.Housman. He in turn has introduced me to the appreciation of poetry, a form I've had trouble with in the past. If you haven't come across his work before, his complete poetic works (excepting his comic verse) can be found here.

Housman's poetry is accessible, powerful, and it may be that one reason it affects me so powerfully is that he writes from my perspective - thwarted homosexual in intolerant, exclusively heterosexual society.

As a young student at Oxford university he met and fell in love with one Moses Jackson, who, sadly, was heterosexual. Their friendship endured and although Housman was not invited to Jackson's wedding, whatever cooling of their relationship this caused had healed by the time Housman served as godfather to Jackson's fourth son. Jackson settled his family in Karachi, India, and Housman corresponded with him until Jackson died of cancer in Canada.

Housman spectacularly failed his final exams and we can only guess that the trauma of his unrequited love had something to do with it. He took up a menial job working for the patents office and adopted an austere bachelor lifestyle, continuing to develop his skills as a classics scholar in his spare time. Ten years later he was appointed classics professor at Cambridge university and was considered by his students and colleauges a dry, remote, rather daunting man. His editions of several classics are still considered authoritative. Therefore it was a big surprise to everyone when he published a collection of poems, 'A Shropshire Lad', at his own expense because it had been rejected by publishers to whom he had submitted it. It sold slowly at first but sales picked up and various musicians set some of the poems to music. With the advent of the First World War, 'A Shropshire Lad' caught the mood of the nation. It has never been out of print since May 1896. He published one further collection, 'The Last Poems' in 1922, when his friend Jackson was dying and he wanted him to see them before he died, and his brother Laurence published 'More Poems' after his death in 1936 and then 'Collected Poems' in 1939. His homosexual viewpoint is more openly expressed in these posthumous publications than in the earlier collections.

The above distilled mainly from Wikipedia articles.

I have found Housmans poetry inspiring and uplifting, although it deals with death, suicide, lost love, fatalism and the futility of war. I hope you like it too.


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