A Shropshire Lad

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Shropshire: A Place of Imagined Sexual Contentment

Published in 1869, A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad stands as one of the most socially acclaimed collections of English poetry from the Victorian age. This period in British history, however, proves, by judiciary focus (the Criminal Law Amendment of 1885), to be conflictive with Housman’s own internal conflicts concerning the homoerotic tendencies which he discovered in his admiration of fellow Oxford student Moses Jackson. Housman, much unlike other English literary figures such as Oscar Wilde and Thomas hardy, was not an artist who found it necessary to directly confront Britain with any political dissention imposed by is works. Instead, "for Housman the discovery of self was so disturbing and disconcerting that poetry came as a way of disclosing it" (Bayley 44). The county of Shropshire is central to much of his poetry, but it is employed merely as "a personification of the writer’s memories, dreams and affections;" meanwhile, Housman’s central character is one "who could at once be himself and not himself" (Scott-Kilvert 26). In what Housman himself regarded to be one of his best poems, "XXVII: Is my team ploughing," the focus is placed upon a conversation between a dead man and one of his friends from his previous life (Housman 18). "XXII: The street sounds to the soldiers’ tread;" meanwhile, expresses an emotional wonder discovered in the eyes of a passing soldier (Housman 15). Both the ambiguous quality of the dead man’s last question (18 ll. 25-26) in poem XXVII and the nature of the chance encounter in XXII stand to exemplify the subtle undercurrent of Housman’s own enigmatic sexuality.

"Is my team ploughing" is in the form of "the primitive ballad metres, which Housman revived," and primarily "employed for a poetry not of action but of introspection" (Scott-Kilvert 25). The piece begins by the dead man’s questioning of such trivialities as his "team" (l. 1) that he "used to drive" (l. 2), and "football" (l. 9) being played "Along the river shore" (l. 10). The other speaker responds to the dead man’s questions with a partially abrasive tone as can be interpreted by lines 7-8 in which ...

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...t some fickleness therein. It must be said in conclusion if these works do in fact mirror the "thoughts at heart" within Housman, that his sexuality combined with his philosophy of love culminate in an intensely masochistic lifestyle. Such is reflected by the guilt that is obviously associated by the speaker of "Is my team ploughing" deciding to take his dead friend’s sweetheart. In poem XXII the speaker relays the contentment which he finds in the mutual emotions of love between he and the redcoat, but at the same time XXVII relays the frustrations ultimately found in being alone. To invest such emotional intensity only to knowingly find unrequited perspectives manifests itself as personified hope in both poems of which speak of experiences of intimate gratification and internal content.

Works Cited

Bayley, John. Housman’s Poems. Clarendon’s Press, Oxford. 1992.

Hoagwood, Terrence Allen. A.E Housman Revisited. Twayne Publishers, N.Y. 1995.

Housman, A.E. A Shropshire Lad. Ed. Stanley Appelbaum. General Publishing Co., Ltd., Toronto. 1990.

Scott-Kilvert, Ian. A.E. Housman: Writers and Their Work No. 69. Longmans, Green and Co., London. 1965.

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