Assigned: "The Loveliest of Trees" (2042); "When I was One-and-Twenty" (2042); "To an Athlete Dying Young" (2042); "On Wenlock Edge" (2043); "Terence, This is Stupid Stuff" (2044); "The Chestnut Casts his Flambeaux" (2046).
"The Loveliest of Trees"
1. Compare the speaker's thoughts about nature (the seasons, the blossoming tree) with those of Tennyson's speaker in the "Old Yew" lyrics of In Memoriam A.H.H. How does the speaker's relationship to nature differ from the ones posited by romantic poets and by Tennyson?
2. Does the combination of a young speaker and a mature consciousness seem appropriate to you? What do you think Housman is accomplishing by giving his youthful speakers such mature thoughts about various topics, in this poem and others?
"When I was One-and-Twenty"
3. What advice does the wise man give the speaker at 21, and then later? What do you make of the contradiction?
4. What lesson does the speaker learn? In what sense might the speaker be conforming his romance to a "type" or general category of experience? What is gained, and what is lost, when we "categorize" our life-events and our thoughts this way?
"To an Athlete Dying Young"
5. Compare this poem to the way Keats, in "Ode on a Grecian Urn" muses on art as eternal and life as brief and painful. What is posited as eternal in Housman's poem?
6. What insights does the poem offer on how to make the most of a short existence? What is the value of intense reflection on great questions like "the meaning of life"? Can we ever be completely immersed in life, without the need or desire for something like an "outsider's" perspective?
7. Consider that such meditations on sporting glory are as old as the ancient Greek poet Pindar — what is attractive to many of us about sports? Is it solely the intensity of the competition many enjoy, or is there more to say?
"On Wenlock Edge"
8. As with "The Loveliest of Trees," how does the speaker typify or classify his experiences, or his thoughts? What points of comparison are there between the speaker and the ancient Roman he conjures up? What is the same, and what has changed, concerning both the speakers and the natural setting?
9. In what sense do nature and human convention assert a similar power over human individuality? What seems to be the speaker's attitude towards the similarity, or the power itself?
10. To what extent does this poem allude to the weight of the cultural past — how much of what the Greeks, the Romans, and others can we bring forward and live by, or at least find value in?
"Terence, This is Stupid Stuff"
11. Compare this poem to Wordsworth's companion poems, "Expostulation and Reply" and "The Tables Turned." What is similar about the dialogue in these poems, and what is different?
12. What is the source of inspiration for Housman's speaker Terence? What kind of poetry does Terence supposedly write, and why do his companions reject it?
13. What comparison between "malt" (liquor — ale) and poetry? Is he making a concession to his companions, or distancing himself from their opinions? What does he go on to say is the value of his poetry for others — that is, what can poetry do for us that ale cannot?
14. How does the final stanza, in which the speaker refers to the ancient King Mithridates, carry forward the comparison between poetry and malt? What further insight about the value of poetry or literature more generally emerges from this refinement?
"The Chestnut Casts his Flambeaux"
15. What is the relationship between the tavern or ale-house and the natural surroundings? Are they mutually exclusive realms, or is there a connection between them?
16. How does this poem set forth a "stoical" response to life's sufferings? Do you find it convincing? Do you think Housman wants it to be convincing?
"Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries"
17. See Hugh Macdiarmid's caustic reply to this poem on 2437 — what criticism does he offer?
18. If you had to place Housman in terms of an appropriate era, where would you place him? Victorian, Modernist, in-between? (general question)
Edition: Abrams, M.H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 2A-C. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN 2A = 0393975681, 2B = 039397569X, 2C = 0393975703.