Alfred Edward Housman was born on the 26th of March 1859, in Fockbury, Worcestershire, England. His father was Edward Housman, a country solicitor, and his mother was Sara Jane. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Bromsgrove where he spent the early years of his life. Unfortunately, his mother died in 1861 when Alfred was just twelve years old. Following Sara’s demise, his father remarried his cousin in 1873 and stayed with her until his death.
Alfred started his educational career from local schools, Bromsgrove School, and King’s Edward School, England. He amazed his teachers with his literary skills. He started writing poems at a very young age and won prizes for his efforts. Later, in 1877, he won a scholarship and attended St John’s College, Oxford, where he received first-class Honors in Classical Moderations. During his stay at Oxford, he developed a deep friendship with Jackson which led him to distractions. Due to that, he also did badly in the examinations. However, he managed to clear the final year. On completion of his degree, he was appointed as a clerk in the Patent Office in London. He worked there for ten years. Yet, he did not give up his classical and literary interests. He pursued his classical studies independently and penned scholarly articles on classical masters such as Sophocles, Horace, Propertius, Ovid, and Euripides.
Alfred led a challenging life. The early demise of his mother affected him profoundly. Later, his unrequited love with his roommate, Moses Jackson, added more distress to his wounds. However, he found a respectable job and succeeded in establishing his career as a scholar. He did not marry or had any illegitimate relationship with anyone. Instead, he lived a reclusive life, rejecting honors and avoiding public contact.
Although Alfred became popular on account of his literary services, he led a solitary life avoiding public eyes. He breathed his last on the 30th of April in 1936, in Cambridge.
Some Important Facts of His Life
- He is known globally for his poetry collection, “A Shropshire Lad” which was published in 1896.
- His book, “The Shropshire Lad” was used for music by many English and British composers in the early 20th
Alfred was a superb poet and scholar who started writing at an early age. His poetic skills were applauded by his teachers at school where he won prizes for his literary efforts. While working as a clerk in the Patent Office in London, he spent most of his time pouring over ancient texts and producing various scholarly articles for popular journals. Alfred’s scholarly skills introduced him among the circles of scholars.
Also, it led to his appointment at University College London as a professor of Latin in 1892. After a few years, he became increasingly reclusive and devoted himself fully to the literary services. In 1896 he wrote his collection, “A Shropshire Lad.” It did not earn the desired success, but the poem, “Last Poem” hit the shelves. His major scholarly attempt to which he gave many precious years of his life, was an annotated five volumes edition of the Astronomica, a Latin poem by Marcus Manilius. Thus, he lived a highly private life, working on his writing skills and doing wonders in the field of literature.
Alfred always maintained a simple style in writing, his lyrics largely express a romantic pessimism. His works reflected acute sensitiveness human beings commonly confront. These were inspired by the tragedies he faced during his early years. Most of his pieces seem to be motivated by human emotions like unrequited love, grief over loss and role of destiny. Throughout his writing career, Alfred wrote various memorable masterpieces, some of which are of the classical level. Also, most of them are filled with a thought that life is something to live. Also, his ideas about death are not horrific, for he did not consider death an epitome of cruelty that takes away that joyousness of life. It is rather an escape from worldly tensions. The recurring themes in most of his poems are death, love, loss of innocence, youthful passion and friendship.
Alfred Edward Housman’s Famous Works
- Best Poems: Alfred Edward Houseman is a great English poet, some of his famous poems include: “Loveliest of Trees, Cherries Now”, “To an Athlete Dying Young”, “Tell me not Here, It Needs not saying” and “Give me a Land of Boughs in Leaves.”
- Other Works: Besides poetry, he tried his hands on prose and letters. Some of them include Selected Prose, edited by John Carter, The Letters of A. E. Housman, ed. Archie Burnett and The Letters of A. E. Housman, Henry Maas.
Alfred Edward Housman’s Impact in Future Literature
Houseman’s scholarly ideas and literary efforts have left deep imprints on international literature. His distinctive writing approach, simple style and unique way of expression have made him stand among the best classical scholars and poets. A classical scholar, D.R. Shackleton Bailey, in his article, Listener termed him the greatest writer of all times. His thoughtful ideas influenced various great scholars of his time. He successfully documented his ideas in his writings with a unique style and became a beacon for aspiring poets.
- “Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
To throw the thought away.” (Because I Liked You)
- “To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.” (How Clear, How Lovely Bright)
- “Give me a land of boughs in leaf,
A land of trees that stand;
Where trees are fallen, there is grief;
I love no leafless land.” (Give Me a Land of Boughs in Leaf)
- Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.” (Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now)