What is the interpretation of the last two verses of 'Because I Liked You Better' by A.E. Housman? Thanks.The first two stanzas of 'Because I Liked You Better' seem fairly straightforward. Housman...

What is the interpretation of the last two verses of 'Because I Liked You Better' by A.E. Housman? Thanks.

The first two stanzas of 'Because I Liked You Better' seem fairly straightforward. Housman is expressing (with guarded language) the homosexual feelings that he had for his friend Jackson. However, the last two stanzas seem less obvious, particularly the images of the "clover", "tall flower", etc. There is an irony within the last line but not too sure about the other images.

Asked on by scairns

1 Answer | Add Yours

vangoghfan's profile pic

vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In the final two stanzas of A. E. Housman’s poem “Because I liked you better,” the speaker imagines that his one-time friend will someday pass near the mound (“knoll” [10]) of the speaker’s grave in a cemetery.  In such a grassy, pastoral setting, the “clover whitens” (9), and the reference to “trefoiled grass” (12) probably refers to the three leaves of the green clover plant, with their white blooms above them. Interestingly, Hans Biedermann in his Dictionary of Symbolism (New York: Facts on File, 1992) notes that three-leaved clover plants had by the middle ages become symbols of the Christian Trinity.  They were thus suitable as graveyard plantings.

Biedermann also notes that “In medieval love poetry, couples often met or made love ‘in clover’” (72).  If Housman and many of his readers were aware of this association of clover with falling in love and with love-making, the clover imagery at the end of this poem might have seemed especially ironic, since the speaker and the young man to whom he was once attracted were never able to fully express (let alone physically consummate) any love that may once have existed between them. In any case, Biedermann also notes that “Because clover, presumably as a reference to new life after resurrection, was at one time planted on graves, it also came to symbolize parting” (72).

Thus the imagery of clover at the end of Housman’s poem may be significant in multiple ways: as a symbol of frustrated love; as a symbol of the social prohibition against love-making between these two same-sexed people; as a symbol associated with graves and death; and as a symbol associated with parting. Whether all these meanings are truly plausible, it seems safe to say that the imagery of greenness and clover is at least appropriate to a graveyard setting.

No tall plants (“no tall flower[s]” [11]) are allowed to grow in the grass surrounding graves.  Gravesites are regularly mowed, keeping most vegetation quite low to the ground.  The absence of a “tall flower” may symbolize the absence of the flourishing, beautiful love the two men might have been able to share at one time – a love which is now gone forever. (It is even possible that the upright flower imagery here has understated sexual implications.)

In the final stanza, the speaker asks the man who once attracted him to acknowledge that the now-dead speaker has lived up to the promise of distance and silence that he (the speaker) long ago made.  The speaker’s buried heart is now no longer “stirred” by the visitor, but only because that heart is imagined to be dead.  At the time of the writing of the poem, however, the speaker still seems to be in enough love with his one-time friend to imagine this grave-side scenario and to write the present wistful, nostalgic poem.

We’ve answered 317,393 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question