A.E.Housman 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. W.H.Auden 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. Vikram