A.E. Housman (1859–1936)
Study Questions and Activities
Loveliest of Trees
- How old is the speaker in the poem?
- What is the setting of the poem (i.e., time and place)?
- What is the speaker’s purpose in the poem?
- What is the significance of the word “Eastertide”?
- What kind of cycle is suggested by the second stanza, and how is this connected to Eastertide and nature?
- What is the theme of the poem?
Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree
- What is the dramatic situation of the poem (i.e., who is talking to whom, where, when)?
- Who is Terence?
To an Athlete Dying Young
- What is the “stiller town” (line 5)?
- Why does the speaker call the athlete “smart”?
- Clarify the meaning of “low lintel” (line 23).
- Is this a carpe diem poem?
- In a brief essay, compare and contrast this poem with John Updike’s “Ex-Basketball Player.”
- What is the predominant metre in the poem?
- Give examples of alliteration, consonance, and assonance.
- Give examples of end-stopped and run-on lines.
Is My Team Ploughing?
- According to Thomas Hardy’s widow, this was Hardy’s favourite Housman poem. Compare it with Hardy’s “Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave?”
- Of the three kinds of irony — verbal, situational, and dramatic — which type do you find in this poem? Discuss.
- View Ian Bostridge’s rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Is My Team Ploughing.” How does the singer emphasize the colloquy between the living and the dead? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDvP0Lnh1-Q
- Dr. Joseph Mersand, in his edition of A Shropshire Lad, points out that Vaughan Williams cut stanzas 3 and 4, which prompted Housman’s angry observation, “How would he like me to cut two bars of his music?” (A Shropshire Lad, p. 82). Which version, Housman’s original or that of Vaughan Williams, do you prefer?
- What is the tone of stanza 1? of stanza 2?
- In the first line, Housman originally wrote “fellow” but revised it with “sinner.” Why do you suppose he made the change?
- This poem was written in August 1895, “shortly after Oscar Wilde, the most popular British playwright of the period, was convicted of sodomy and given the maximum prison sentence. Although the poem does not mention homosexuality, Wilde’s conviction unquestionably inspired it” (Literature for Composition, p. 1,323). In view of this information, what do you take to be the theme of this poem?
- Choose one or two poems from A Shropshire Lad such as “(I) 1887”, “(III) The Recruit” “(IV) Reveille,” and “(XXXV) On the Idle Hill of Summer,” and discuss how Housman’s attitude to war may have changed by the time of Last Poems, many of which were written during and after World War I. See, for example, “Oh, stay at home, my lad.”
- Read XXXI (“On Wenlock Edge”) http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Shropshire_Lad/XXXI from A Shropshire Lad, and then read “Wenlock Edge” by Alice Munro. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/05/051205fi_fiction?currentPage=all Write a short essay on Munro’s use of the poem and what it contributes to the story.
- Research the relationship between Housman and Moses Jackson. Write a brief essay discussing the influence of Jackson on Housman. Pay particular attention to Poem XXXI in More Poems. You will want to log on to the following link, which describes unpublished correspondence between the two. Auction catalogue. Web. 22 May 2014. <http://www.sothebys.com/fr/auctions/ecatalogue/lot.pdf.N08646.html/f/41/N08646-41.pdf>
- Incidentally, Moses Jackson’s son Hector, born 1892 in Karachi, then part of British India, was a decorated war hero who, after surviving combat at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, returned to Vancouver in the summer of 1919, enrolling at the University of British Columbia. On January 18, 1920, he was hit by a taxi on Cambie Bridge, Vancouver, and died of his injuries a week later. [See the online review of A Fine View of the Show by Andrew Jackson, Hector Jackson’s nephew. Hector was one of Moses Jackson’s sons.] A Fine View of Show. Web. 23 May 2014. <http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=cb1850c3-0c0d-49ab-bc0d-cefc55383874>
- Download the version of A Shropshire Lad available at ebooks Adelaide: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/housman/ae/h84s. Download the excellent small pamphlet by Peter Cash from the English Association on A Shropshire Lad:Cash, Peter. A Shropshire Lad. English Association: Leicester. 2011. Web. 23 May 2014. <http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/english-association/publications/bookmarks/longer-poems-bookmarks/LP5.pdf>In the first paragraph of the booklet, Cash makes the statement that Terence Hearsay is the speaker of all 63 poems in the volume. Do a word search in your ibook A Shropshire Lad, using the word “Terence.” You will soon find many references to Terence. What evidence do you find to refute or at least qualify Cash’s statement? Pay particular attention to poem VIII, “Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree.”
A Shropshire Lad available at ebooks Adelaide:
Cash, Peter. A Shropshire Lad. English Association: Leicester. 2011. Web. 23 May 2014. <http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/english-association/publications/bookmarks/longer-poems-bookmarks/LP5.pdf>
Alfred Edward Housman by E.O. Hoppe (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alfred_Edward_Housman.jpeg) is in the Public Domain