"Sorrow, Not Mine, But Man's"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 160

Context: This poem–short, as are all of Housman's–is the author's answer to criticism of his work. Many critics, while acknowledging Housman's consummate skill in compressing so much into so few lines and his felicity in language, had pointed out the narrowness of his range. He seemed to have but one theme: the brevity of life, the passing of all youth and beauty. Further, the critics suggested that his intense pessimism was deliberately cultivated; that his own experience could not possibly have been as grim as his poems depicted it. Housman's reply is that he is writing of the human condition, not his own; that life is essentially tragic, and we must resign ourselves to that stark fact of existence.

They say my verse is sad: no wonder;
Its narrow measure spans
Tears of eternity, and sorrow,
Not mine, but man's.
This is for all ill-treated fellows
Unborn and unbegot,
For them to read when they're in trouble
And I am not.

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