The Road of Danger, Guilt, and Shame: The Lonely Way of A. E. Housman

The Road of Danger, Guilt, and Shame: The Lonely Way of A. E. Housman

The Road of Danger, Guilt, and Shame: The Lonely Way of A. E. Housman

The Road of Danger, Guilt, and Shame: The Lonely Way of A. E. Housman

Synopsis

"Housman's poetry is considered through close analysis of the workshop material as well as the final texts. Not only the well-known poetry of A Shropshire Lad, Last Poems, More Poems, and Additional Poems is discussed but also Housman's light verse, juvenilia, unfinished fragments, and prose, concentrating on the gay subtext. There is much attention to the techniques of light verse, especially puns, which, when analyzed, often throw an entirely new light on apparently simple pieces. The commentaries of other critics are taken into account, but the author also presents her own explications based on her close reading and wide knowledge of literature." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

A. E. Housman's place in the ranks of english authors has had its ups and downs over the hundred plus years since a Shropshire Lad, rejected by the commercial press and published at the author’s own expense in 1896, slipped quietly into the hearts of readers. It did not arrive with a splash of publicity accompanied by booming sales, although it received a fair amount of critical praise in the reviews. Its readership grew steadily if slowly, although it was only during World War I and in the twenties that Housman’s poetry became generally popular. Following the Wilde debacle, the most popular poet in England was Rudyard Kipling, whose work was closely associated with the reins of Empire, followed by A. E. Housman, whose a Shropshire Lad “was taken for open-air poetry of the healthiest kind” (Croft-Cooke, Feasting with Panthers, 290). On hearing of his death, Virginia Woolf said that England had lost its greatest contemporary poet. Housman was definitely part of the literary landscape and a passport-holding citizen of Parnassus, quite an achievement for a man who in his own lifetime had published only two small collections of poetry and roundly declared that he was a professor of Latin and not a poet by profession.

Following his death in 1936, however, Housman’s poetic reputation went into decline although his lyrics never lost their hold on the popular heart. Perhaps this was the reason for the snubbing they received from the doyens of literature. How could poetry known and loved by the masses, poetry that accompanied the soldiers into the trenches of the Great War and solaced them under the barrage of German shells, poetry that was primarily written in everyday language (despite Sinclair’s opinion that Housman insisted “on a self-consciously ‘poetic’ vocabulary” and deliberate archaisms [A. E. Housman, 7]) and could be understood by the uneducated and semiliterate, be good poetry? Indeed, I believe Kit Wright is correct in suggesting that “his popularity may have counted against his critical reputation” (“Never Mind What It Means,” 15). Critical acclaim was ultimately awarded to Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” published in 1922, the year Housman’s Last Poems appeared, but that acclaim was withheld . . .

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