To have Christopher Ricks edit a selection from the works of A.E. Housman must have seemed like a good idea to somebody. This book is not what it says it is: it's called a Collected Poems, but the contents page reveals that Housman's Light Verse and Parodies are only "A Selection". The selection of Housman's prose seems generous, but is in no way comprehensive when you consider that anyone who really wants to come to grips with Housman's scholarship needs to invest more than a hundred quid in the three volumes of his "Classical Papers" - out of the more than a thousand pages of Housman the scholar, Ricks has chosen less than 100. The trouble is that Ricks himself appears to have only one language.
You would think, in a selection from the work of a renowned classical scholar, that the author might be likely to quote now and again from Greek and Latin, and probably not bother to translate his allusions, on the assumption that his readers wouldn't need him to. This is indeed the case with Housman, but Ricks does not bother to translate Housman's Greek and Latin quotes in the endnotes; in fact, even when Housman quotes a scholar writing in French, Ricks leaves it untranslated!
In the meantime, he copiously annotates Housman's every allusion to English poetry. Since I'm trying in my spare time to teach myself classical Greek I happen to own Liddell & Scott's abridged Greek-English Lexicon, but most people have not this luxury. Housman's Latin tags defeat me entirely, since I have never learned Latin and don't own a Latin-English dictionary. If Ricks himself doesn't have Latin, Greek or French, couldn't he at least have asked someone who does to translate this stuff for him? And if he does have them, why didn't he bother to provide annotations for people who don't?Read more ›
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This collection of poems and prose by A E Housman (1859-1936) is both illuminating and surprising. Housman writes with extraordinary clarity on the subjects of poetry and textual criticism and Christopher Ricks has presented us with a rather fine selection! Recommended!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
OUT, OUTRAGEOUS, OUTSTANDING31 July 2002
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I have never known how Housman got away with it, living at the time he did. He failed to obtain honours in his final Schools at Oxford but finished his life as Professor of Latin at Cambridge. He treated his fellow scholars with scarifying contempt in print. His poetry makes it clear without quite flaunting it that he was homoerotic (he would have hated 'homosexual'as being half-Greek half-Latin), and he was not only an atheist but downright blasphemous. Obviously he is best known for his poetry. He was, or affected to be, surprised by the popular success of A Shropshire Lad with its pervasive fixation with death, but the reason is easy to see -- Housman's poetry is catchy. It has 'tingle-factor' in a big way, and the deadly simplicity haunts the memory 'So here I'll watch the night and wait To see the morning shine When he will hear the stroke of eight And not the stroke of nine' (of a man due to be hanged the next morning). In The Name and Nature of Poetry he makes a very entertaining attempt, largely at the expense of the eighteenth century style, to explain what poetry meant to him, but he gets the point across far better and more briefly in an address on Swinburne when he says 'poetry is a tone of voice, a way of saying things'. That illuminates the matter far better for me than any amount of pretentious lit crit. The finest and most characteristic of all his poems is in Latin, the dedication of his great edition of Manilius to Moses Jackson. Those who have been privileged to study Greek and Latin while they were still mainstream subjects are not likely to forget its last four lines, among the most awesome in any language I can read, but in general I go along with the assessment of him as 'an absolutely marvellous minor poet'. As a scholar he was among the greatest, and he enlivened the dusty pages of classical scholarship with some of the most entertaining prose I have ever read. His address to the Classical Association is entitled uncompromisingly The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism, and his final words to his 'peers' -- 'one thing above all others is necessary, and that is to have a head, not a pumpkin, on your shoulders, and brains, not pudding, in your head' is only one specimen I can never forget. 'The habit of treading in ruts and trooping in companies that men share with sheep' or 'Stoeber's reprint of Bentley's text, with a commentary intended to refute it, saw the light in 1767 in Strasbourg, a city still famous for its geese' are others. I neither know nor care what his relationship with Jackson amounted to in practice other than that Jackson was the love of his life. He did not hesitate to to publish in the press his brilliant satirical poem on the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde, and I gather there was a tacit understanding among the dons of Trinity never to refer to his poetry. That poem ends with another of his great fixations 'He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair.' Like other notable atheists, e.g. Johannes Brahms, Housman knew the scriptures inside-out and he made witty use of them -- I treasure in particular the scholar who 'has rendered Greek nonsense into English nonsense and gone on his way rejoicing'. The photograph of him on the cover of this book is more favourable than many others which make him look as if he was descended from a long line of maiden aunts, as someone once said. Be that as it may, I recommend this book to anyone not yet familiar with a great mind and a brilliant and fascinating writer.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Excellent, Complete Edition15 Sept. 2010
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This is a first rate edition of Housman's poetry and considerably more, including some of his prose and letters. The latter will largely be of interest to scholars and most will read this book for the poetry. As a poet, Housman's reputation rests on his 2 slender collections, A Shropshire Lad, and Last Poems. Some additional poems, including deft parodies, were published posthumously, but the real meat is in Shropshire and Last.
Preoccupation with death, the transience of life and youth, and frustrated love are the themes of this poetry. Housman's relatively short, powerful lyrics, direct style, and remarkably evocative phrases (has anyone ever described a youthful relaxed summer better than "the idle hill of summer") make many of these poems among the most anthologized in the English language.