J. B. Priestley (essay date December 1922)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Priestley, J. B. “The Poetry of A. E. Housman.” London Mercury 7, no. 38 (December 1922): 171-84.

[In the following essay, Priestley suggests some reasons why critics have tended to ignore Housman's poetry in discussions of serious literature. He praises both A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems for their unity of mood.]

Mr. A. E. Housman is easily our most surprising poet. His first surprise was A Shropshire Lad itself, one of the most astonishing volumes in a very astonishing literature. It came to us practically a full-grown masterpiece, and the production of what used to be regarded as a lyric poet's maturity. He gave us no interesting...

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John W. Stevenson (essay date October 1956)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Stevenson, John W. “The Pastoral Setting in the Poetry of A. E. Housman.” South Atlantic Quarterly 55, no. 4 (October 1956): 487-500.

[In the following essay, Stevenson examines the element of pastoralism in A Shropshire Lad and concludes that Housman's brand of pastoral is realistic rather than artificial and idyllic.]

An obvious comment on Housman is that he wrote in a pastoral vein; it is more difficult to define the nature of his pastoralism and its contribution to the peculiar and singular achievement of his poetry. Critics have found it hard to explain the quality and texture of his verse, praising him rather for his classical smoothness and...

(The entire section is 4928 words.)

John W. Stevenson (essay date winter 1958)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Stevenson, John W. “The Martyr as Innocent: Housman's Lonely Lad.” South Atlantic Quarterly 57, no. 1 (winter 1958): 69-85.

[In the following essay, Stevenson discusses the function and meaning of the main character, as well as the narrative point of view, in A Shropshire Lad. He concludes that the Shropshire lad symbolizes the loss of innocence and man's search for identity.]

It is strange that no one has thought to define the nature and attitude of Housman's characters: his soldiers, his lovers, his rustics. Such people as Ned and Dick turn out to be merely names of the only character of the poems, the Shropshire lad. Unlike names that are usually...

(The entire section is 6072 words.)

B. J. Leggett (essay date 1970)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Leggett, B. J. Introduction to Housman's Land of Lost Content: A Critical Study of “A Shropshire Lad,” pp. 3-11. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1970.

[In the following excerpt, Leggett provides an overview of the critical reception—or lack of critical attention—of Housman's poetry.]

Any assessment of A. E. Housman's present stature as a poet must begin with the well-known but curious fact that his poetry, while it has become widely read and even highly regarded in some circles, has failed to give rise to a significant body of criticism. In an age of close reading and analysis, no systematic study of Housman's poetry has been attempted. The...

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Peter E. Firchow (essay date winter 1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Firchow, Peter E. “The Land of Lost Content: Housman's Shropshire.” Mosaic 13, no. 2 (winter 1980): 103-21.

[In the following essay, Firchow discusses the significance of Housman's representations of nature in the pastoral setting of A Shropshire Lad.]

“In 1920, when I was about seventeen,” George Orwell recalled in “Inside the Whale” (1940), “I probably knew the whole of the Shropshire Lad by heart. I wonder how much impression the Shropshire Lad makes at this moment on a boy of the same age and more or less the same cast of mind?” Very little, Orwell hastens to conclude, and goes on to puzzle out what it might have been that...

(The entire section is 8731 words.)

Eddy Dow (essay date fall 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Dow, Eddy. “Self-Validation in Housman's A Shropshire Lad LXII (‘Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff’).” Victorian Newsletter (fall 1982): 30-31.

[In the following essay, Dow discusses the style and thematic significance “Terence” (poem LXII) in A Shropshire Lad.]

The first speaker in this poem [A Shropshire Lad] begins his criticism of his friend Terence's poetry with these words:

“Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.”

(ll. 1-4)

Thirty-eight lines later, Terence defends his work in...

(The entire section is 981 words.)

Brian Rosebury (essay date autumn 1983)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Rosebury, Brian. “The Three Disciplines of A. E. Housman's Poetry.” Victorian Poetry 21, no. 3 (autumn 1983): 217-28.

[In the following essay, Rosebury describes Housman as a poet of “heartfelt emotion” whose poetry is best when his craftsmanship is suited to its expression. He observes that Housman's poetry is most successful when he avoids argumentation or metaphysical content and instead maintains a consistently serious tone, with visual imagery suited to the mood of the poem.]

The last five years have seen the publication of two important books about A. E. Housman: a thorough and sympathetic biography by Richard Perceval Graves1 and a...

(The entire section is 5270 words.)

Robert K. Martin (essay date fall 1984)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Martin, Robert K. “A. E. Housman's Two Strategies: A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems.Victorian Newsletter no. 66 (fall 1984): 14-17.

[In the following essay, Martin observes that Housman employs two different strategies in his poetry for “responding to the situation of the homosexual through the means of his art”; he maintains that Housman expresses a “strategy of survival” in his earlier poetry, and a “strategy of revolt” in his later poetry.]

This essay addresses itself to what I have called Housman's two “strategies”—two ways of responding to the situation of the homosexual through the means of his art. I identify one of...

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John E. Gorecki (essay date May-June 1985)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Gorecki, John E. “An Echo of Herrick in Housman's A Shropshire Lad LXII.” American Notes and Queries 23, nos. 9-10 (May-June 1985): 142-43.

[In the following essay, Gorecki points out that in the poem “Terence” in A Shropshire Lad, Housman makes reference to the poetry of Robert Herrick.]

A. E. Housman's open reference to Milton in A Shropshire Lad LXII, “Terence, this is stupid stuff,” contains an unnoticed echo of “His farewell to Sack” by Robert Herrick. In reply to one critical of his verse, Housman's Terence says that if he wants to feel happy he should take up drinking and that opportunities for it are close at hand:...

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John W. Stevenson (essay date fall 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Stevenson, John W. “The Durability of Housman's Poetry.” Sewanee Review 94, no. 4 (fall 1986): 613-19.

[In the following essay, Stevenson observes that, while considered a minor poet, Housman has enjoyed a broad readership and steady reputation. He attributes the enduring appeal to Housman's poetry to his creation of a character (the Shropshire lad) who speaks to the longings of modern man.]

Establishing hierarchies for writers can be a shifting game, little different from establishing the canon to study literature. If, for example, you cite Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, and Yeats as major writers, and then list Herrick, Marvell, Christina...

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Terence Allan Hoagwood (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Hoagwood, Terence Allan. “Classical Skepticism in the Poetry of A. E. Housman.” Housman Society Journal 14 (1988): 19-28.

[In the following essay, Hoagwood examines the influence of classical skepticism on the philosophical outlook of Housman's poetry.]

A. E. Housman's poems are so impressively anchored in the emotional and physical life, so colloquial in style and so evidently simple in subject, that a philosophical reading of these poems may at first glance seem paradoxical or impertinent. Beyond the evidence of the poems, Housman's remarks sometimes openly deprecate formal philosophy: ‘Plato's doctrine of Forms or Universals is useless as a way of...

(The entire section is 3690 words.)

A. R. Coulthard (essay date fall 1993)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Coulthard, A. R. “The Flawed Craft of A. E. Housman.” Victorian Newsletter, no. 84 (fall 1993): 29-31.

[In the following essay, Coulthard asserts that while many critics have assessed Housman a superb craftsman, his poetry often demonstrates flawed craftsmanship. According to Coulthard, Housman's poetry is rife with awkward diction, odd syntax, lapses in taste, and clichés.]

Most textbooks acknowledge the limited tonal and thematic range of Housman's verse, a deficiency Housman defended in the prefatory piece to More Poems, published the year before his death:

They say my verse is sad: no wonder;
          Its narrow measure spans...

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John W. Stevenson (essay date spring 1997)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Stevenson, John W. “The State of Letters: A Shropshire Lad Reappraised.” Sewanee Review 105, no. 2 (spring 1997): 244-50.

[In the following essay, Stevenson assesses the enduring popularity of A Shropshire Lad, despite its general neglect by scholars. He observes that the appeal of Housman's poetry lies in his strong sense of place, original main character, and use of traditional rhyme and meter.]

The year 1896, not unlike our own late 1990s, was a time of looking ahead to a new century, as it was a time of looking backward. What was the promise of the coming twentieth century, and what of the nineteenth would be preserved? In England's...

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Alexander David Kurke (essay date spring 1998)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Kurke, Alexander David. “Immortality for a Textual Critic.” Classical and Modern Literature 18, no. 3 (spring 1998): 189-202.

[In the following essay, Kurke offers an interpretation of poem LXIII of A Shropshire Lad, discussing the work in relation to Housman's career as a classics scholar.]

In recognition of Arthur Platt, his former colleague at University College, London, A. E. Housman observed:

A scholar who means to build himself a monument must spend much of his life in acquiring knowledge which for its own sake is not worth having and in reading books which do not in themselves deserve to be...

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Janice Lore (essay date spring 1998)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Lore, Janice. “Housman's ‘Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff …’” Explicator 56, no. 3 (spring 1998): 140-42.

[In the following essay, Lore argues that the Terence in Housman's poem “Terence” of A Shropshire Lad may be a reference to the Roman playwright of that name.]

According to Grant Richards, A. E. Housman's publisher, and Laurence Housman, his brother, A. E. originally intended to call his first volume of verse The Poems of Terence Hearsay. A. W. Pollard, Housman's friend and roommate at Oxford, is credited with talking him out of it and suggesting A Shropshire Lad (L. Housman 71; Richards 13-14). This is the one explanation...

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Elsa Nettels (essay date 1999)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Nettels, Elsa. “Youth and Age in the Old and New Worlds: Willa Cather and A. E. Housman.” In Cather Studies, Vol. 4, edited by Robert Thacker and Michael A. Peterman, pp. 284-93. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Nettels discusses the influence of Housman's poetry on the novels of Willa Cather.]

Of all Willa Cather's characters, Godfrey St. Peter, the protagonist of The Professor's House, draws most often on literary sources to express his feelings and perceptions. Embedded in his mind are passages from plays and poems and fictional characters and scenes from novels and short stories brought to the surface of...

(The entire section is 3269 words.)