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Alfred Edward Housman was a renowned poet and English scholar whose words convey an idealistic pessimism in a straightforward style. In his life-time, there are some factors that contributed to His type of poem writing and the sad tone in most of his poems. Upon his mother’s death when he was twelve years of age, his attitude towards life, God and love changed completely, a turn which is definitely a reason for why he chose to write poems and more so the pessimism and sadness that his poetry conveys.
While he was at College at Oxford, he was demoralized by his realization of gay relation desires which led to emotional turmoil adding to his distaste in love and relationships. He was a sad man, whom life had deprived off his mother, a fellow student who could not reciprocate his homosexual love; which depressed him all the more. This led him to solitude where he sought to express his thoughts, ideas and views in form of poetry. The feeling of dejection only worsened his state of melancholy, a reason as to why his poems express a lot of anger and sadness towards life. (Page, 1985)
When it was apparently certain that he must live without love, Alfred grew to be ever more withdrawn and for comfort turned to his note pad depicting a life of unfulfilled loneliness. Owing to his mastery of the Latin and his feeling for the way poets choose their words, he began writing poems that eventually made up his collection of popular works of poetry like A Shropshire Lad (1896). From the poems of Heinrich Heine and the Scottish border ballads, he had acquired a unique manner of conveying emotion clearly and still managing to keep it at a certain distance. The death of his long time friend Moses Jackson, took his writing a notch higher when he wrote some poems which were mostly about his friend.
A.E Housman is a poet who wrote some controversial, sad and critical kind of poems. Among his sad poems is "Terence, This is stupid stuff", "Is my team ploughing" and "Eight O'clock". As a professor of classics and an expert on the texts of ancient Latin literature, he displays a refined mastery of the short, traditional English lyric poem. In his poem, "Terence, This is stupid stuff", A. E. Housman present a sort of dialogue\ counterpoint debate, where an unnamed first speaker tells Terence he is stupid in the first line of the poem. Terence goes on to explain he is not stupid in the rest of the poem.
In the poem, Housman in the person of Terence believes that poetry, can grant us consolation when we feel heartbroken or depressed. In Terence’s world and according to his beliefs, sad or depressing poetry heals his troubles and saves his grace. Terence tends to believe that sad poetry works for him and he therefore believes that it is the thing for everyone. What he tries to prove as not being stupid in the poem. He points out his homosexuality and the fact that he could not voice it out to those he admired because of the shyness and the stigma associated with being gay at the time; Housman was one miserable person an aspect he paints throughout this poem. (Efrati, 2002)
Housman says that real men also need poetry. Through characterizing his comrades as individuals who need a dose of poetry, to his use of imagery of beer as a getaway from reality to his remarkable story of Mithridates, Housman tells his readers that poetry, whether sad or not, is a priceless preparation for real life. In the first stanza, Housman reveals that men at the pub think poems, especially sad ones, are in fact "stupid stuff."
The fellows at the pub mock Terence to writing less saddening poems, Terence defends himself by arguing that cheerful poems which he compares to alcohol give us a false impression of reality, which once it wears off we are left to the utter reality of things that torment us. Things we could have avoided by braving ourselves by training for the ill and not the good, like clever people. Housman believes that we should sample all that life presents us in order to help us handle any situation we may come across in life. Avoiding unpleasant topics is not the way to go.
In the poem "Is my team ploughing," a dead man enquires from his friend who is alive about how life is now that he is dead and can no longer participate. The poem has the structure of a dialogue: the first verse poses a question and the second canto provides a reply, a structure which continues throughout the poem. In this poem, Housman depicts his life and friendship with his comrade Moses Jackson. "Is My Team Ploughing?" is an imaginary dialogue between the dead farmer and the narrator. The narrator answers the dead ploughman's questions with the general idea that his death has made little if any difference and life is still going on as usual.
“No change though you lie under”, “The land you used to plough.” As the poet narrator, Housman talks about his life-time friend from college, Moses – the dead man, who died from cancer. Jackson, not being gay had abandoned Housman and left for India. Having not been invited to his weeding had devastated Housman even the more, he portrays this in the poem in a kind of dramatized mockery. He can still enjoy life unlike his dead friend, but with a guilty conscience as he has had to take his lover. (Graves, 1979)
Housman tells his dead friend about the situation of things now that he is dead; the fields are still being ploughed and the lads are still playing football by the beach. In the fifth stanza, the dead man enquires about his lover’s condition, whether she is still mourning his death. The narrator assures him that his former lover no longer weeps his departure; she is actually very contented with life. The narrator reassures him she is being well taken care of by him. In a way, he tends to mock the dead man by telling him “Never ask me whose.”
“Whose” refers to the dead man’s wife to whom the narrator has become a lover and uses the term to avoid making the dead man jealous. In the seventh stanza the dead man asks of his friend’s welfare and whether he has found a lover to be with, what he could not be for him. This reveals that Housman was devastated by his friend’s death, in spite of how much he tried to make it look insignificant, majorly because he did not give in to his homosexual desires. The message is clear; the life of others still continues in spite of some one's death. Housman is of the idea that vows and marriage pledges are not binding once a spouse dies.
In the poem "eight o'clock", is short drama where the character is depicted as an individual who curses his luck. The protagonist is being hanged as retribution for an offense he committed. He sounds the least remorseful of his crime, but he does however appear upset regarding his hanging, which is about to happen. Having being caught makes the character curse the luck that has be fallen him. The clock tower is ticking symbolizing the countdown to the last minutes of his life. He displaces his bitterness to the clock, instead of at himself or else at the congregation that has sentenced him to his untimely death. Both nature and people tend to portray similar characteristics, they can be beautiful as well as destroyers. Nature and human beings can be equally cruel, but humans feel guilty and retribution for crimes committed, but on the other hand nature has no guilt or mercy.
He presents the merciless aspect of nature in matters of death. Nature is unforgiving and man is sympathetic when put in certain situations by nature, implying that human beings can either demonstrate weakness or strength depending on the situation at hand. This poem demonstrates that even people feel guilt for being merciless and hence they disband these thoughts of blame by using objects such as a clock. Both nature and human beings learn from each other, operate by their own rules and differ in different ways.