A. E. Housman

Alfred Edward Housman ( March 26, 1859 in Fockbury, county of Worcestershire, † April 30, 1936 in Cambridge ), usually known as AE Housman, an English scholar and poet, the best published in 1896 for his book of poems A Shropshire Lad was known. The poems contained therein describe the lost youth in rural areas of England and avail themselves of a succinct and expressive language and symbolism. This made them popular among English composers of the early 20th century and were often set to music. Housman's poems are closely associated with the era and with Shropshire itself.

Housman was one of the leading classical scholars of his time and has been called one of the greatest scholars of all time. He got his reputation by publishing as a private scholar and was appointed on the basis of the quality of his work as professor of Latin at University College London and later at Cambridge.


Housman was born in Fockbury, a hamlet near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, the eldest of seven children of a lawyer. His mother died at his twelfth birthday and her place was taken by his stepmother Lucy. She was an older cousin of his father, who in 1873 married this. His brother Laurence Housman and sister Clemence Housman were also writers.

Housman attended King Edward 's School in Birmingham and later the Bromsgrove School, where he received a solid academic education and won prizes for his poetry. In 1877 he got a scholarship to St John 's College, Oxford, where he studied classical philology. Although Housman was reluctant, he formed close friendships with his two roommates, Moses Jackson and AW Pollard. Jackson was the love of his life, but said Housman's feelings not because he was heterosexual. Although Housman was an excellent classical scholar, he did not succeed, the tests that would have given him a degree to exist. The reason for this failure is unclear. It is possible that Housman overestimated to some subjects, which he regarded as unimportant, gave too little attention, spent too much time with Jackson, or was worried about the illness of his father. Housman felt humiliated by his unexpected failure and was determined to defend his genius.

In Oxford, Jackson got a job in the Patent Office in London and organized for Housman a job there. By 1885 they shared an apartment with Jackson's brother Adalbert, then moved Housman in his own apartment. Moses Jackson went to India in 1887 and returned only in 1889 returned briefly to England to get married. Housman was not invited to the wedding, but knew nothing about it until the couple had already left the country. Adalbert Jackson died in 1892. Housman continued his studies ancient languages ​​continues, and wrote articles on authors such as Horace, Propertius, Ovid, Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. Gradually he got such a great reputation that he was appointed in 1892 as professor of Latin at University College London. Many years later, the UCL Academic Staff Common Room was renamed in his memory in Housman Room.

Although Housman's early work and his duties as a professor included both Latin and Greek, he began to focus on Latin poetry. When he was asked later why he had stopped writing about Greek poetry, he replied " I found did i could not attain excellence in both. " ( Roughly: "I found that I could not both be outstanding. " ) in 1911 he was Kennedy Professor of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained for the rest of his life. Between 1903 and 1930 he published his critical edition of Manilius ' Astronomica, 1905 by Juvenal and 1926 of Lucan. Many colleagues were enervated because of his offensive attacks on those who he accused of bad conduct scientific work.

Housman found his true vocation in classical languages ​​studies and treated poetry as a secondary employment. He never spoke in public about his poems until 1933 he held a lecture - The Name and Nature of Poetry - in which he took the view that poetry should appeal to emotions more than the intellect. He died three years later at the age of 77 years in Cambridge. His remains are buried near St Laurence 's Church in Ludlow, Shropshire.


A Shropshire Lad

During the time he spent in London, Housman wrote his book of poems A Shropshire Lad, which includes 63 poems. Because several publishers rejected his poems, he published in 1896 at his own expense. Both his colleagues and his students were surprised they had not known about Housman's poetic activity. A Shropshire Lad sold initially only slowly, but later became a great success. Even before the First World War Housman's poems were often set to music by English composer and thus acquired a greater awareness. A Shropshire Lad is printed continuously since May 1896.

The poems are characterized by a strong pessimism and a constant preoccupation with death, without offering it consolation in religion. Housman wrote most of them while he was living in Highgate, London, and before he had ever visited those described by him part Shropshire, which was about 30 miles away from his homeland. Shropshire he idealized and described it as his ' land of lost content' ( roughly: ' The Land of the lost happiness '). Housman himself confirmed that his poems were influenced by the songs of William Shakespeare, the Scottish Border Ballads and Heinrich Heine, but denied any Greek and Latin influence.

The poem To an Athlete Dying Young from A Shropshire Lad gained thereby great notoriety that it was used in 1985 in the film Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (played by Meryl Streep ) reads it is an abridged version during the funeral of Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford ).

Works (selection)

Musical settings

  • George Butterworth: Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad and Bredon Hill and other songs from A Shropshire Lad, Roderick Williams and Ian Burnside, Naxos 8 57 2426

The Argentine composer Juan María Solare set to music poems by Housman following:

  • Pope ( 1996) for solo voice
  • Lost content (2004) for voice and drum