A. E. Housman: Scholar and Poet

A. E. Housman: Scholar and Poet

A. E. Housman: Scholar and Poet

A. E. Housman: Scholar and Poet

Excerpt

Twenty years after Housman's death there is still no comprehensive study of his poetry in English and very little balanced criticism of it. Professors, jealous of their special knowledge, have tended to regard him as the supremely eminent scholar who occasionally divagated into poetry but who was soon himself again; while the majority of his critics fall into the opposite error of ignoring his scholarship in both senses of the word, with the results described in Chapter VIII. I have always felt that there was no dissidence between the poet and the scholar, and that Housman poetic ingenium gave life and force to his scholarship.

Two things are desirable for an adequate study of the poetry of Housman: a fair knowledge of English poetry of all periods, and a classical training. I also think it no great disadvantage to feel admiration and even veneration for a man and his work if one is to write a book about him. I did not know Housman personally, and I have been spared much donnish gossip about his life at Cambridge, but I have noticed that those who knew him best admired him most.

Housman's style, in both verse and prose, is so incisive and individual that his phrases and epithets are instantly remembered when one comes across them in another poet. In investigating the literary influences on his poems I have tried to confine myself to definite and significant verbal echoes, but I regard this section of the book as merely a necessary basis on which a future critic may build. In writing of contemporary criticism of Housman I am conscious that my survey is incomplete, but none of the books or articles I have read since my own was in the Press has added much to the general stock of criticism. Mr. George Watson's book, published earlier this year, is mainly concerned with . . .

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