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A.E. Housman

A.E. Housman Social Studies Poetry Philosophy American History Education

Alfred Edward (A.E.) Housman (1859-1936) was a famous scholar, poet and classicist.  Widely known in his own lifetime, his poetry is still studied today.

The American Academy of Poets provides biographical information about him:

Housman was born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, England, on March 26, 1859, the eldest of seven children. A year after his birth, Housman's family moved to nearby Bromsgrove, where the poet grew up and had his early education. In 1877, he attended St. John's College, Oxford and received first class honours in classical moderations.

... Housman only published two volumes of poetry during his life:  A Shropshire Lad (1896) and Last Poems (1922). The majority of the poems in A Shropshire Lad, his cycle of 63 poems, were written after the death of Adalbert Jackson, Housman's friend and companion, in 1892. These poems center around themes of pastoral beauty, unrequited love, fleeting youth, grief, death, and the patriotism of the common soldier. After the manuscript had been turned down by several publishers, Housman decided to publish it at his own expense, much to the surprise of his colleagues and students.

While A Shropshire Lad was slow to gain in popularity, the advent of war, first in the Boer War and then in World War I, gave the book widespread appeal due to its nostalgic depiction of brave English soldiers. Several composers created musical settings for Housman's work, deepening his popularity.

Housman continued to focus on his teaching, but in the early 1920s, when his old friend Moses Jackson was dying, Housman chose to assemble his best unpublished poems so that Jackson might read them. These later poems, most of them written before 1910, exhibit a range of subject and form much greater than the talents displayed in A Shropshire Lad. When Last Poems was published in 1922, it was an immediate success.

A third volume, More Poems, was released posthumously in 1936 by his brother, Laurence, as was an edition of Housman's Complete Poems (1939).

Despite acclaim as a scholar and a poet in his lifetime, Housman lived as a recluse, rejecting honors and avoiding the public eye. He died in 1936 in Cambridge.


Media Credits

Photo of A.E. (Alfred Edward) Housman by E.O. Hoppe, 1910 - online, courtesy LIFE Photo Archive.

 

Quoted poem in the Leopold and Loeb story, from A Shropshire Lad (1896).

 

Information, and quoted passage above, from the Academy of American Poets - online at poets.org.

 

 

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