1936-04-30

ALFRED EDWARD HOUSMAN, English poet died (b. 1859); A. E. Housman’s poetry is inextricably rooted in homosexual experience and consciousness and is also a significant reflector of gay history. In 1942 A.E. Houseman’s brother, Laurence Housman, deposited an essay entitled “A. E. Housman’s ‘De Amicitia'” in the British Library, with the proviso that it was not to be published for 25 years. The essay discussed A. E. Housman’s homosexuality and his love for Moses Jackson. Given the conservative nature of the times it is not surprising that there was no unambiguous autobiographical statement about Housman’s sexuality during his life.

It is certainly present in A Shropshire Lad, for instance #30 Others, I am not the first / have willed more mischief than they durst’, in which ‘Fear contended with desire’, and in #44, in which he commends the suicide, where ‘Yours was not an ill for mending’… for ‘Men may come to worse than dust’, their ‘Souls undone, undoing others’: he has died ‘Undishonoured, clear of danger, / Clean of guilt..’.

More Poems was more explicit, as in no. 31 about Jackson ‘Because I liked you better / Than suits a man to say’, in which his feelings of love break his friendship, and must be carried silently to the grave. His poem ‘Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?’, written after the trial of Oscar Wilde, addressed more general societal injustice towards homosexuality. In the poem the prisoner is suffering ‘for the colour of his hair’, a natural, given attribute which – in a clearly coded reference to homosexuality – is reviled as ‘nameless and abominable’ (recalling the legal phrase ‘peccatum horribile, inter christianos non nominandum’, ‘the horrible sin, not to be named amongst Christians’).