Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
During his lifetime, A. E. Housman was the foremost classicist of Great Britain. He was a professor of Latin, first at the University of London and then at Cambridge University, until his death. During his tenure, he prepared celebrated scholarly editions of Manilius, Juvenal, and Lucan. He achieved these academic posts through his singular perseverance while working in the civil service, for he had failed his honors examinations at Oxford University. Normally, this failure would have disqualified him for an academic career. Some Housman biographers assert that the unrequited homosexual love he had for a fellow student caused a depression that had resulted in Housman’s disappointing performance.
After his death, Housman’s fame came to rest on two slim collections of poems, A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems (1922). Both collections deal with life’s brevity and the indifference of nature and history to human tragedy. The Boer War (1899) and two world wars, as well as clues left by Housman’s continual revisions of his poems, have encouraged an anti-imperial political reading of the poet’s work, likely to a far greater degree than Housman himself intended when he wrote.
Housman’s general pessimism and disillusionment locates his style closer to that of his contemporaries Thomas Hardy and Matthew Arnold than to Rudyard Kipling, and he is miles apart from the optimism of William Wordsworth and Alfred, Lord Tennyson....
(The entire section is 1264 words.)
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