No one, not even Cambridge was to blame
(Blame if you like the human situation):
Heart-injured in North London, he became
The Latin Scholar of his generation.

Deliberately he chose the dry-as-dust,
Kept tears like dirty postcards in a drawer;
Food was his public love, his private lust
Something to do with violence and the poor.

In savage foot-notes on unjust editions
He timidly attacked the life he led,
And put the money of his feelings on

The uncritical relations of the dead,
Where only geographical divisions
Parted the coarse hanged soldier from the don.


One gay poet writing on another. Apart from their sexuality, and the 
fact that both did badly at Oxford, Housman and Auden could not have 
been more different. Housman repressed his feelings, had few friends 
and presented a remote, cold personality, keeping all his feelings 
for his poems. Auden was warm, outgoing and relatively open for those 
times about his sexuality. 

But this difference didn't prevent Auden from achieving a sympathetic 
understanding of Housman in this poem (though not without one rather 
bitchy swipe at Housman's sexual preoccupations with soldiers and 
labourers.. "his private lust/ Something to do with violence and the 
poor."  Check that carefully calibrated disdain in "something"!). 

The poem is a potted biography of Housman. He was a brilliant 
classics student at school and got a scholarship to Oxford, where he 
was also a brilliant scholar. Yet he failed his final exams, quite 
possibly because of the heartbreak of being rejected by his friend 
Moses Jackson, the love of his life. 

He went to London to work, leading a self consciously arid life at 
the Patents Office, but continuing his Latin studies on the side. 
Here to though he chose a particularly dull Latin poet to specialise 
in, but his criticism was brilliant, though really savage - his 
essays are worth reading just for their brutality. All Housman's 
anger at life seemed to work itself out through the essays. 

His essays finally got him the recognition he deserved, "The Latin 
Scholar of his generation", and he became a professor, first in 
London, then Cambridge. Meanwhile the emotions which he didn't permit 
himself to indulge in - "Kept tears like dirty postcards in a drawer" 
in Auden's wonderful line - came through in his poems. 

Housman was death obsessed and his poems are full of hanged men, dead 
soldiers, athletes all cut off in their prime. Auden suggests this 
stemmed from his unhappiness with life, where all the problems of 
being homosexual and unable to find love made him idealise death 
where everyone could be equal and all things possible. 

This could not have been further from Auden's view, at least when he 
was young, but he could understand it enough to write of it in his 
tribute to Housman. 


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