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What does A.E. Houseman's attitude toward suffering and pain seem to be in poems?...

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abc89 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 3, 2008 at 5:37 AM via web

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What does A.E. Houseman's attitude toward suffering and pain seem to be in poems?

Specifically interested in: "To An Athlete Dying young", "Is My Team Ploughing?", and "When I was One-and-twenty.


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jfwheeler | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted December 19, 2008 at 2:51 AM (Answer #1)

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For Housman, "pain and suffering" are more closely related to emotional and spirtiual pain rather than physical trauma.   

In "To an Athlete Dying Young," Housman acknowledges the tragic (though unspecified) death of the young hero, who was once carried on his comrades shoulders after his victories, to the same young man being held aloft by those same comrades, but this time those friends are his pallbearers.  As sad as his death is, there are some good points:  he will never be defeated and he will never grow old.

The tone in "When I Was One-and-Twenty" is also more about emotional trauma.  In this poem, the speaker is warned by an older person about the dangers of giving his heart away:

When I saw one and twenty

I heard a wise-man say,

'Give crowns and pounds and guineas,

but not your heart away."

Of course, no one ever learns life lessons by being told to avoid pain, and this is true of the speaker, who pays with "sighs a plenty / and sold for endless rue."

Finally, "Is My Team Plouging?" is also about emotional suffering rather than physical pain.  Here, the speaker has died and reflects upon how easily life goes on without him.  His work life:

'Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?'

It is also painful for the speaker watch his lover cease to mourn his death:  

Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep. 

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