A. E. Housman

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What does the incident in Housman's poem “Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree” suggest about human nature?

A. E. Housman's “Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree” suggests that human nature tends to be weak, selfish, impulsive, and cowardly, but not entirely corrupt.

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In A. E. Housman's poem “Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree,” the speaker is saying goodbye to someone named Terence—perhaps a friend or a farm worker. The speaker tells Terence that he will “come home no more.” Then he tells him why. The speaker's brother, Maurice, lies dead, and the speaker is the one who has killed him. He has stabbed him, and the knife is still in his side.

Apparently, this took place a while ago, for “By now the blood is dried.” We are not told what the speaker has been doing in the meantime—perhaps preparing for his escape. He goes on to tell Terence that his mother thinks that her sons are “long away,” that they have been gone too long. Now, he continues, she will be alone. We might sense a bit of remorse in these words, at least as far as the speaker's mother is concerned. He never expresses sorrow over his brother.

The speaker shakes hands with Terence. Whether his hands are still literally bloody is uncertain. They probably are not; rather he knows his guilt, and the blood is metaphorical. The speaker wishes Terence strength and love and luck, things that the speaker seems to lack, for he certainly has no moral strength or love. Even his luck is questionable, for now he must leave his home for good, and everything will wait long for him in vain.

This poem tells us much about human nature. It tells us that people are impulsive, for this seems to be a crime of passion. People can also be cowardly, for the speaker is running away instead of facing the consequences for what he has done. He, as we have said, doesn't seem to have much remorse, but he does recognize his guilt (the bloody hands), so he has a sense of right and wrong. Furthermore, we learn that no one is all bad, for the speaker wishes Terence well and recognizes the value of strength and love even if he doesn't share those characteristics. Basically, then, we learn that human nature is weak and often selfish, yet not completely corrupt.

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