Housman, A. E.
(Alfred Edward Housman) (housˈmən)
, 1859–1936, English poet and scholar, whose verse exerted a strong influence on later poets. He left Oxford without a degree because he had failed his final examinations. Ever afterward he was a coldly reserved, shy, and aloof man, a recluse seemingly without emotional life, but in truth a deeply closeted homosexual who may never have acted on his feelings. After serving for 10 years in the civil service, he became in 1892 a professor of Latin at University College, London, and in 1911 professor of Latin at Cambridge and fellow of Trinity College. Housman proved to be one of the finest classical scholars of his time, and a caustic critic of other scholars. Specializing in textual criticism, he produced a monumental edition of Manilius
(5 vol., 1903–30), edited Juvenal
(1905) and Lucan
(1926), and wrote valuable classical studies. It is, however, as a poet that he is best known, although only two small volumes appeared during his lifetime, A Shropshire Lad
(1896) and Last Poems
(1922). His verse is noted for its economy of words and directness of statement, pictures of the English countryside, and the fusion of humor and pathos, and is widely thought of as quintessentially English. The passing of youth and the inevitability of death are his most characteristic themes. His best-known poems include “When I Was One-and-twenty,” “With Rue My Heart Is Laden,” “To an Athlete Dying Young,” and “Far in a Western Brookland.” His essay The Name and Nature of Poetry
(1933) was originally given as a lecture at Cambridge.
See his complete poems (ed. by T. B. Haber, with an introduction by B. Davenport, 1959); biography by G. Richards (1942, repr. 1973), biography and critical study by P. Parker (2017); studies by T. B. Haber (1967), A. S. Sydenham (1936, repr. 1973), and B. J. Leggett (1978).