A.E Housman
Brief Biography
 He was born in 1859 in Worcestershire and won a scholarship
to St John's College, Oxford . At Oxford he also fell in love for
the first and only time. Housman was gay. Moses Jackson was
not; he was a beefy rowing blue — someone who had earned
the equivalent of an American varsity letter — up in Oxford on
a science scholarship. Homosexuality he called 'beastliness' or
'spooniness'. And that for Housman meant a lifetime of
unfulfilled loneliness.
Last Poems came out in 1922, the year that Moses
Jackson died of stomach cancer in Vancouver. It's
very likely the book was written and put together
just for him. Jackson read it before he died. The
letter Housman wrote has not been made public,
but is said to be very self-revealing. He died in 1936.
XXXI
Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
To throw the thought away.
To put the world between us
We parted, stiff and dry;
`Good-bye,' said you, `forget me.'
`I will, no fear', said I.
If here, where clover whitens
The dead man's knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
Starts in the trefoiled grass,
Halt by the headstone naming
The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
Was one that kept his word.
Language
Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
To throw the thought away.
 Whose perspective is this poem from? Who is the
persona?
 Can you find three examples of understatement in this
first stanza? i.e. where the speaker makes something
significant seem less important. Why are these used?
 What does ‘suits a man’ suggest?
 What does the phrase ‘throw the thought away’ suggest?
Language
Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
To throw the thought away.
The first line establishes the perspective as first person with the speaker
addressing a past lover.
‘Liked’ is chosen rather than ‘Loved’, an understatement signalling the
emotional restraint of the rest of the poem. The speaker feels unable to
express his emotions to their full extent, perhaps because he is afraid of
rejection.
‘Than suits a man to say’ expresses the Victorian belief that men should be
stoic and unemotional, feelings were seen as feminine and unmanly.
‘It irked you’ is another understatement meaning it annoyed the object
of the speaker’s affection, who we can assume to be a man, knowing that
the poet was homosexual.
The speaker’s lover was ashamed of their romance and asked him to ‘throw
the thought away’ an image showing the rejection of the speaker by his
lover. The use of understatement here also belittles the affection felt by
the speaker, as he is unimportant to his lover.
Language: Stanza 2
To put the world between us
We parted, stiff and dry;
`Good-bye,' said you, `forget me.'
`I will, no fear', said I.
 Who does ‘the world’ refer to?
 Could ‘stiff and dry’ have more than one interpretation?
 What impression does the reader get of the final words
between the two men?
Language: Stanza 2
To put the world between us
We parted, stiff and dry;
`Good-bye,' said you, `forget me.'
`I will, no fear', said I.
‘The world’ in line 5 could be a metaphor for Victorian society, showing the
prevalent homophobic attitude at the time. In fact, homosexuality was a
crime and Oscar Wilde, another Victorian poet and playwright was
convicted and jailed for the crime of being gay. The metaphor could show
that society is ‘between us’, an obstacle keeping the lovers apart.
The diction of ‘stiff and dry’ shows the awkward and cold parting of the
two lovers. It could also be said to have sexual connotations.
‘Good-bye..forget me’ and ‘I will, no fear’ hearken back to the
understatement in the first line. This unemotional language
encapsulates the misery of the speaker, he has been rendered
inarticulate, unable to express his true emotions for fear of judgement by
his lover and society.
Language: Stanza 3
If here, where clover whitens
The dead man's knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
Starts in the trefoiled grass,
How has time and place changed in this stanza?
Look at the botanical references in this stanza (three of
them). What do they suggest?
What might ‘tall flower’ refer to?
Language: Stanza 3
If here, where clover whitens
The dead man's knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
Starts in the trefoiled grass,
There is a shift in time to the third and fourth stanza. Having
parted with his lover, the speaker is dead and buried in a
graveyard ‘The dead man's knoll’ while his lover is walking
past. There could be an element of botanical imagery in
this stanza, ‘Clover’ and ‘Trefoiled grass’ are weeds and could
represent the sorrow of the life the speaker has led, the ‘tall
flower’ therefore could represent joy and happiness, which
has been felt by neither man. This has been implied by the
use of ‘no’, an example of negative diction.
Language: Stanza 4
Halt by the headstone naming
The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
Was one that kept his word
 What sound is predominant in this stanza and what is the
effect of this?
 This stanza begins with an imperative. Why do you think
Housman does this?
 There is a significant change in the vocabulary of this
stanza? Which word choices are particularly noticeable?
Why does Housman start using this vocabulary at this
stage?
 Why are the last two lines ironic (in two ways)?
Language: Stanza 4
Halt by the headstone naming
The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
Was one that kept his word
The alliteration in the first two lines ‘Halt’ ‘headstone’ ‘heart’
shows that to an extent the rigid self control that has been
prevalent throughout the poem has relaxed somewhat.
In this stanza we see diction more usually associated with
romantic poetry ‘heart’, ‘stirred’ and ‘loved’. Perhaps now
that the speaker is dead he is finally able to express his
emotions to his lover.
The last two lines are ironic, as through writing the poem, the
speaker has broken his promise to never speak of their love.
Structure
 What do you notice about the rhythm and rhyme of
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this poem?
Why does Housman use this structure?
Where is the obvious break in the poem?
Why is the fact that the poem spans two different time
frames significant?
Find two examples of a;
Masculine ending (stressed syllable at end of line)
Feminine ending (unstressed syllable at end)
Structure
The tight controlled trimeters of this poem, with their
alternating feminine and masculine endings, could
be said to mirror the ‘stiff and dry’ emotional restraint
which they describe.
The poem is divided into four stanzas , the first two
describing the parting of the lovers, the last two
projecting forward to the speaker’s gravesite. This
lapse in time intensifies the misery of the speaker, as
his unrequited love has lasted so long.
Final thoughts
 What is the overall tone created in this poem? Do you
find it melodramatic or touching? Debate.
 Which poems could you compare it with and why?
Find key quotations that you could link.
Compare with…..
 Which poems go well with this one?
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Because I Liked You Better