A. E. Housman: A Divided Life

A. E. Housman: A Divided Life

A. E. Housman: A Divided Life

A. E. Housman: A Divided Life

Excerpt

A popularity that would have exhilarated many other poets came to Housman unsought and, it sometimes appeared, against his wishes. Embarrassed by admiration and repelled by curiosity, he persistently averted himself from the consequences of becoming a successful author. Except for the demand that his books should be low-priced, and a fussy concern about the spelling and punctuation of each edition, he lived remote from the literary world and a recluse from his fame. There was almost the mark of anonymity about his work: a voice that could not easily be identified with the outward man. Small in volume and repetitive in theme, his poetry issued from a hidden source and was disciplined into a narrow channel. It had the intensity of a single experience long secreted, which at last forced its way, as if involuntarily, through all the bars of self-restraint. This belated trickle of inspiration, seeping out at the onset of middle age, in defiance of the austere and reticent scholar which Housman had by then become, is the peculiar interest, the unravelled problem, of a life otherwise so firmly and methodically organized. He was a remarkable example, even in the Victorian age, of man's struggle to curb and adapt himself to his environment --a struggle, in Housman's case, discernible only in the bitter lyricism of his poetry.

A boy of six when Swinburne dared to flout the conventions of the period, and a man of thirty-six when Oscar Wilde paid the penalty for such bravado, Housman grew up in that fortress of respectability--the mid-Victorian middle class. It was a society against whose rules of conduct few were tempted to rebel. But whereas conformity was a yoke to which other poets more or less unwillingly submitted themselves, conformity was for Housman the pre-condition of his poetry, the stimulus without which it might never have been written. A prim and decorous personage who "appeared to be descended from a long . . .

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