Tag Archives: A.E. Housman

New & Improved Posts Featuring Leonard Cohen, A.E. Housman, And Joni Mitchell

In addition to creating new Heck Of A Guy entries, I spend a considerable amount of time and effort updating and revising already published posts. Most often, this involves routine tasks, such as correcting typos, replacing embedded videos that are no longer available, and re-coding dead links. More rarely, egregious errors are found and put right. The most recent example of this sort was a photo that should have featured A.E. Houseman that was actually a shot of his brother, Laurence Housman.

On occasion, however, I have the opportunity to substantially  improve a post, typically because new data or materials have become available.  Such is the case for at least  two posts, each of which is several years old.

Today’s post, indeed, is devoted to alerting readers to these newly refurbished classics.

A.E. Housman On Toads And Unicorns

Left to Right: Laurence Housman, A.E. Housman

OK, substituting a photo of A.E. Housman for the incorrectly labeled shot of his little bro, Laurence, probably doesn’t notably enhance the post, but this March 18, 2009 entry is worthwhile reading, regardless of whomever is portrayed in the picture.

The post spotlights two Housman poems, “The Use And Abuse Of Toads” and “Inhuman Henry or Cruelty to Fabulous Animals,” which are rarely found in Freshman English Lit anthologies or, in fact, rarely associated with A.E. Housman.  For starters, both are considered children’s literature.  But children’s verse, as practiced by the Brits, is a far cry from, say, the Walt Disney version of fairy tales. British poetry for children often has a – well, a vicious streak.

“The Use And Abuse Of Toads” resonates with sibling discord, internecine sadism, and collateral damage.  And, while “Inhuman Henry” has been (non-pejoratively) described as silly, it hardly seems random chance that Housman chose a lion and unicorn, heraldic emblems for England and Scotland and the objects of legions of literary allusions,  for his poetical menagerie. But, it is delightfully silly.

Read this post at

A.E. Housman On Toads And Unicorns

Leonard Cohen, Ventures Induced To Enter Wrong Hall At 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

Cohen Turns Back - Gets Help

Leonard Cohen Heads To The Wrong Hall

When Leonard Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, the internet was awash in (much deserved) accolades and acclaim for the Canadian singer-songwriter. Here at Heck Of A Guy, however, I chose to focus on Cohen, along with The Ventures and John (Don’t Call Me “Cougar”) Mellencamp being run through a maze before being allowed on stage. The first shot fired was in the form of the extract below, addressed to those hosting t he show:

Unsolicited Advice To VH1-C Production Crew & Waldorf Event Planners

Here’s a wacky idea – what if, when the honorees leave the waiting area (AKA the Waldorf Hotel kitchen) to mount the stage, the direction to their mark on the stage were made clear? Now, no one enjoys slapstick antics, not unlike that practiced by the Keystone Cops in their heyday, more than me. Watching the Ventures mill about before someone standing idly by pointed them toward the stage was a hoot. Even watching my man, Leonard, walk through the door into the bright lights only to realize that he was face to face with the live and TV audience with no means of determining the correct route to the stage gave me a tiny jolt of Schadenfreude-infused delight. And, when I saw John Mellencamp nearly sprint the wrong way, toward the backstage area, … well, let’s just say, a knee was slapped and mirth prevailed. Heck, I’ll even admit to being a little disappointed when someone literally took Madonna’s arm to guide her to the stage.

Still, you might want to consider adding a navigational aid to assure that the show runs smoothly. I don’t see a need to pop for a GPS, but maybe you could – and I’m just blue-skying here – plant a big sign outside that door with an arrow pointing to the stage or instruct a flunky to stand outside the door through which the inductees enter and imitate a sign pointing unambiguously toward the stage.

 Part of Leonard Cohen’s journey that, with the kindness of strangers lurking in the hallway, ends up on the stage is shown above.

Now, this post (and the associated post dealing with Mellencamp) has been rendered even more entertaining with the addition of video clips (not available when this post was first published) showing  the actual wanderings of the stars.

Read this post at

Leonard Cohen, Ventures Induced To Enter Wrong Hall At Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction
(also )

Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell – Just One Of Those Things

Initially designated a “casual Saturday post,” this March 31, 2007 essay on the Leonard Cohen – Joni Mitchell relationship has not only evolved into a popular read but has also become a  frequently used reference.  Because of this continued interest in the topic, I’ve conscientiously revised and updated the post as new material becomes available.

Most recently, I’ve added material from Sweet Judy Blue Eyes – My Life In Music by Judy Collins (Crown Archetype, October 18, 2011) and replaced two audio tracks of Joni Mitchell singing “That Song About The Midway” and  “The Gallery,” both of which address her relationship with Leonard Cohen, with embedded videos of those songs.

Read this post at

Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell – Just One Of Those Things

Reading Letters From A. E. Housman For Fun


Letter from A.E. Housman to his stepmother, Lucy

Made giddy by the half-dozen positive emails I received about last week’s post, A. E. Housman’s “1887″ Laments The Deaths Of Those Who Actually Save The Queen, today I am pushing the envelope – and inside that envelope are letters from A. E. Housman. 1

Yes, I am proposing that A. E. Housman’s correspondence is a rewarding use of the viewer’s time and effort.

There, I said it, and I’m not taking it back.

The Significant Housman Letters That Other Reviews Cover

While many of Housman’s collected letters deal with correcting errors in his manuscripts prior to printing, turning down honors (from honorary degrees to the OM to the poet laureateship), refusing  invitations to speak, granting or denying requests to reprint his work, some offer insight into his thinking on important issues.

When the meaning of a poem is obscure, it is due to one of three causes. Either the author through lack of skill has failed to express his meaning; or he has concealed it intentionally; or he has no meaning either to conceal or express. In none of these cases does he like to be asked about it. In the first case it makes him feel humiliated; in the second it makes him feel embarrassed; in the third it makes him feel found out. The real meaning of a poem is what it means to the reader.

Others are poignant.  To a dying Moses Jackson, the object of his unrequited love throughout his adult life, Housman sent this painfully jocular note with a copy of Last Poems by A. E. Housman, a volume that went to press at that time to assure publication before Jackson’s impending demise.

It is now 11 o’clock in the morning, and I hear that the Cambridge shops are sold out. Please to realise therefore, with fear and respect, that I am an eminent bloke; though I would much rather have followed you round the world and blacked your boots.

This summary concludes the Heck Of A Guy obligatory consideration of Housman’s letters of substance: there are quite a few significant letters by Housman, and reviews such as those in the London Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement, cover them thoroughly.

The Housman Letters  That Are Fun To Read

I have pulled a few excerpts from Housman’s letters. These are obviously not random, but neither are they the result of an arduous search. I am certain that there are many better selections I will use when I publish my long-awaited “Wit and Wisdom of A. E. Housman.” Today, however, I offer these easy to find tidbits with minimal commentary for the reader’s enjoyment.

Most reviewers have little to say about Housman’s letters to his family and friends.  I, on the other hand, find this opening of a routine letter to his stepmother, Lucy, charming:

I was delighted to get your long letter on the 26th: it was quite the best epistle I have ever seen, with the possible exception of the second of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians. The violets were also very sweet: I don’t know whether St. Paul used to enclose violets.

And, I’m wild for his “occasional poems” he would sometimes include in his letters.  A note to his brother Laurence, for example, offers this ode to the overlooked but obvious:

… The sea is a subject by no means exhausted. I have somewhere a poem which directs attention to one of its most striking characteristics, which hardly any of the poems seem to have observed. They call it salt and blue and deep and dark and so on; but they never make such profoundly true reflexions as the following:

O billows bounding far,
How wet, how wet ye are!

When first my gaze ye met
I said, ‘Those waves are wet’,

I said it, and am quite
Convinced that I was right.

Who saith that ye are dry?
I give that man the lie.

Thy wetness, O thou sea,
I wonderful to me.

It agitates my heart,
To think how wet thou art.

No object I have met
Is more profoundly wet.

Methinks, ’twere vain to try,
O sea, to wipe thee dry.

I therefore will refrain,
Farewell, thou humid main.

“Farewell, thou humid main.”  What a great line.  And, it was written by perhaps the greatest Latin scholar of modern times. C’mon – that’s funny stuff.

And what would a Heck Of A Guy post be without a Hallelujah reference?  Again writing to his step-mother, Housman notes,

I shall be interested to see the Devotional Poems.2 Perhaps I myself may write a Hymn-book for use in the Salvation Army:

There is Hallelujah Hannah
Walking backwards down the lane,
And I hear the loud Hosanna
Of regenerated Jane;
And Lieutenant Isabella
In the centre of them comes,
Dealing blows with her umbrella
On the trumpets and the drums

Or again:

“Hallelujah!” was the only observation
That escaped Lieutenant-Colonel Mary Jane,
When she tumbled off the platform in the station,
And was cut in little pieces by the train.
Mary Jane, the train is through yer:
Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
We will gather up the fragments that remain.

It seems to come quite easy.

And, commenting on news from home, Housman is moved to include his views on original sin and marriage.

… I see looking through your letters that Eva is to be married tomorrow; so give her my benediction.

Marriage, and the necessity of filling this sheet of paper, remind me of one of my occasional poems, …

When Adam woke day by day
Woke up in Paradise
He always used to say
‘Oh, this is very nice.’

But Eve from scenes of bliss
Transported him for life.
The more I think of this
The more I beat my wife.

In a similar vein, Housman writes,

Dear Mrs Thicknesse,
… My blood boils. This is not due to the recent commencement of summer, but to the Wrongs of Woman, with which I have been making myself acquainted.3 ‘She cannot serve on any Jury'; and yet she bravely lives on. ‘She cannot serve in the army or navy’ -oh cruel , cruel!- ‘except’ – this adds insult to injury – ‘as a nurse’. … I have been making marginal additions. ‘She cannot be ordained a Priest or Deacon': add nor become a Freemason. ‘She cannot be a member of the Royal Society': add nor of the Amateur Boxing Association. In short, your unhappy sex seems to have nothing to look forward to, except contracting a valid marriage as soon as they are 12 years old; and that must soon pall. …

He was hardly humble but did not encourage accolades.

To Witter Bynner4

My dear Sir,
You seem to admire my poems even more than I admire them myself, which is very noble of you, but will most likely be difficult to keep up for any great length of time.

… As to your inquiries: I wrote the book when I was thirty-five, and I expect to write another when I am seventy, by which time your enthusiasm will have had time to cool. My trade is that of professor of Latin in this college: I suppose that my classical training has been of some use to me in furnishing good models, and making me fastidious, and telling me what to leave out. …

Housman rarely demanded money for the rights to publish his work,5 but he did want would be publishers to ask first (and he was adamant about printing his poems exactly as he wrote them). He could be a tad brusque in dealing with those who abused this principle.

… The Duchess of Sutherland is under the impression that I not only gave her my consent to print some verses of mine in a novel of hers, but also wrote her a kind letter about it; neither of which things did I ever do. I have no doubt you [Grant Richards Housman’s publisher] gave her my consent, as you have given it to other people; and I have no particular objection: but when it comes to writing kind letters to Duchesses I think it is time to protest.

Mr Thomas thanks me for “a poem”, and prints two: which is the one he doesn’t thank me for?

And sometimes, he just funny, as in this response to a correspondent asking in which set of rooms Byron resided during his stay at Trinity College:

I know a man who has occupied both sets [of possible rooms], and I have asked him which would be the most convenient for keeping a bear in; and he says the former.

  1. Excerpts are from The Letters Of A. E. Housman, Volume One, 1872–1928, Volume Two, 1929–1936, Edited by Archie Burnett.  Oxford:Clarendon Press. 2007. []
  2. Laurence Housman’s Spikenard, 1898 []
  3. Mrs Thicknesse had sent him a copy of her husband’s Suffragist pamphlet, The Rights and Wrongs of Women. []
  4. American poet and playwright at this time poetry editor of McClure’s Magazine, in which he printed thirteen poems from A Shropshire Lad in the next five years. []
  5. He also wrote that “Vanity, not avarice, is my ruling passion; and so long as young men write to me from America saying that they would rather part with their hair than with their copy of my book, I do not feel the need of food and drink.” []

A.E. Housman On Toads And Unicorns

While A.E. Housman is perhaps best known as the author of “When I was one-and-twenty” and “To An Athlete Dying Young,” his most anthologized poems and those most often found in English Literature reading assignments, he was also an astute scholar (widely acknowledged to be one of the finest Latinists of modern times) and, more to the point of today’s post, an occasional writer of children’s verse.

Given Housman’s deserved reputation as reclusive, melancholy, and profoundly pessimistic, poems for juveniles may seem an unlikely genre to sustain his interest. It is helpful, in this respect, to keep two points in mind:

  1. British poetry for children often has a – well, a vicious streak.
  2. It is often extraordinarily difficult to separate children’s verse, light verse, satire, epigrams, and parody.

“The Use And Abuse Of Toads” resonates with sibling discord, internecine sadism, and collateral damage.

The Use And Abuse Of Toads
By A.E. Housman

As into the garden Elizabeth ran
Pursued by the just indignation of Ann,
She trod on an object that lay in her road,
She trod on an object that looked like a toad.


It looked like a toad, and it looked so because
A toad was the actual object it was;
And after supporting Elizabeth’s tread
It looked like a toad that was visibly dead.

Elizabeth, leaving her footprint behind,
Continued her flight on the wings of the wind,
And Ann in her anger was heard to arrive
At the toad that was not any longer alive.

She was heard to arrive, for the firmament rang
With the sound of a scream and the noise of a bang,
As her breath on the breezes she broadly bestowed
And fainted away on Elizabeth’s toad.

Elizabeth, saved by the sole of her boot,
Escaped her insensible sister’s pursuit;
And if ever hereafter she irritates Ann,
She will tread on a toad if she possibly can.

While the next poem, “Inhuman Henry,” has been (non-pejoratively) described as silly, it hardly seems random chance that Housman chose a lion and unicorn, heraldic emblems for England and Scotland and the objects of legions of literary allusions,  for his poetical menagerie.

But, it is delightfully  silly.



Inhuman Henry
or Cruelty to Fabulous Animals
By A.E. Housman

Oh would you know why Henry sleeps,
And why his mourning Mother weeps,
And why his weeping Mother mourns?
He was unkind to unicorns.

No unicorn, with Henry’s leave,
Could dance upon the lawn at eve,
Or gore the gardener’s boy in spring
Or do the very slightest thing.

No unicorn could safely roar,
And dash its nose against the door,
Nor sit in peace upon the mat
To eat the dog, or drink the cat.

Henry would never in the least
Encourage the heraldic beast:
If there were unicorns about
He went and let the lion out.

The lion, leaping from its chain
And glaring through its tangled mane,
Would stand on end and bark and bound
And bite what unicorns it found.

And when the lion bit a lot
Was Henry sorry? He was not.
What did his jumps betoken? Joy.
He was a bloody-minded boy.

The Unicorn is not a Goose,
And when they saw the lion loose
They grew increasingly aware
That they had better not be there.

And oh, the unicorn is fleet
And spurns the earth with all its feet.
The lion had to snap and snatch
At tips of tails it could not catch.

Returning home in temper bad,
It met the sanguinary lad,
And clasping Henry with its claws
It took his legs between its jaws.

‘Down, lion, down!’ said Henry, ‘cease!
My legs immediately release.’
His formidable feline pet
Made no reply, but only ate.

The last words that were ever said
By Henry’s disappearing head,
In accents of indignant scorn,
Were ‘I am not a unicorn’.

And now you know why Henry sleeps,
And why his Mother mourns and weeps,
And why she also weeps and mourns;
So now be kind to unicorns.

Still Amorous After All These Years

Yes! Yes! Oh God Yes!1

According to Elderly Staying Sexually Active, an article from yesterday’s Washington Post, 50-75% of a representative sampling of U.S. adults ages 57 to 852 are “sexually active, with a significant proportion engaging in frequent and varied sexual behavior.”3

On reading this, my first thought – OK, my first thought after “What the heck does age 57 have to do with elderly? – was that with only a few strategic adjustments, a bolt-on attachment or two, some tasteful leather accents, and eight 12-volt batteries my walker could be transformed into a gasp-inducing boudoir appurtenance and, not incidentally, an after-market accessory with significant profit potential based on the results of this market research.

The article goes on to point out

… elderly men reported more sexual activity than women, but researchers said that was largely because women live longer than men, giving the surviving men more opportunities to have sex than women.

By the way, according to my calculations, exchanging a few years of life for better odds in the sexual roulette game works out to be an altogether advantageous trade.

It’s a dandy story everyone should read. In addition to the data, however, I find one element of the Washington Post article interesting in its implications.

Picture This: Text-Photo Dissonance

Accompanying the Washington Post story are the photo4 and caption shown below.

"Older people value sexuality as an important part of life," said the researcher who led a survey of more than 3,000 adults.

So, the Washington Post prepares a legitimate news story with content that is positive, sweet, and, of course, sexy, that, when published, will capture the interest of a huge proportion of the reading public.5

So, to illustrate this wonderful story about the “Elderly Staying Sexually Active” the decision-makers at the Post select, from the thousands of archived photos The Washington Post must maintain in its justly renowned Camera Works photojournalism compilation, the more than 10 million images of the AP photo library6 to which they have access, and the untold numbers of photos they could have had their photographers snap expressly for this article, this graphic.

So, that’s the best they could come up with?

The photo itself is, I’m sure, well-done technically and aesthetically. It just seems – well, not sexy. Were it not for the couple holding hands, in fact, the picture, especially in the tiny size shown by default on the web page, would, in fact, appear distinctly asexual.

For comparison, consider this photo the Edmonton Journal selected from the Getty Collection to run along side virtually the same story.

And when they ran a similar piece a year ago, even kindly, sweet  NPR matched it to this evocative photo on their web site.

Even if one eliminates the porno industry’s overwhelming stockpile of images referencing elderly sex, there are all kinds of nifty graphics available to convey the thrust of the article. For example, I immediately thought of this iconic scene from The Graduate with Mrs Robinson radiating seductive sexuality.

If I were a shrink, I might wonder if someone at the Post isn’t a tad conflicted about grownups having sex.

Improving Housman’s Verses

Finally, with the study’s results in mind, I am moved to revise the final line of the Housman poem the appeared in yesterday’s post, It’s Been a Mithridates Kind Of Day.

After describing Mithridates being unharmed by poison planted by his enemies because of his immunity to such substances that resulted from his practice of consuming them in small doses every day, Housman concludes the poem with these lines:

–I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

I submit that Housman’s point might have been even more emphatically conveyed, albeit at a modicum of cost to the meter and the rhyme scheme, with this addition (shown in bold type) to the last line:

–I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old – still boinking like a priapic bunny.

  1. I would maintain that this headline constitutes one of the few legitimate uses of recurrent exclamation marks. See Provocative Punctuation Peccadillo []
  2. Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with a randomly selected sample of 3,005 Americans from July 2005 to March 2006. []
  3. Apparently, “varied sexual behavior” does not, as one might reasonably assume, designate activities illegal in eighteen states or those requiring diagrams, three or more participants, or special equipment not available at ones local Wal-Mart, but instead is used in in this context to indicate only masturbation and oral sex. I know, I was disappointed too. []
  4. The photo is credited to “Reed Saxon — Associated Press Photo.” []
  5. At the time this post was written, one day after publication, the article was still the most frequently viewed story in the Washington Post Health section and was the second most emailed story for the entire paper. []
  6. Reference: Wikipedia []

Short Stories, Hard Core Gossip, and The Fake Steve Jobs, With Real A.E. Housman Bonus

DrHGuy Cyber-Bookmarks: 07 July 2007

Cyber-Bookmarks From DrHGuy are annotated links to arguably worthwhile, recently published online reading, new or revised websites of potential utility or ostensible interest, and other internet-accessible experiences that, were it not for the casually collected, cavalierly collated, & capriciously collocated components comprising these posts, could easily be overlooked – which would be, in some cases, a shame,


Short Stories Online

Classic Short Stories is the home of a large number of short stories that are indeed classics – and, more to the point, that are now in the public domain.

The stories range from Hawthorne’s The Ambitious Guest to James Joyce’s Araby to Irwin Shaw’s The Girls in Their Summer Dresses, with other entries from Edith Wharton, Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry, and even Ring Lardner.

My personal favorite of the batch is Mark Twain’s A Burlesque Biography, the penultimate paragraph of which has always struck me as the epitome of biographical prose:

I was born without teeth–and there Richard III. had the advantage of me; but I was born without a humpback, likewise, and there I had the advantage of him. My parents were neither very poor nor conspicuously honest.

Snarkier Than DrHGuy

Yes, it’s true. I am humbled by these masters of snark. While I nurture ambitions of playing in their league someday, that’s a bit like the Little Leaguer who makes the second string All-Regional Southwest Missouri All Star Team hoping to lead the Cubs to a World Series.

1. What Would Tyler Durden Do?

The blurb says it all:

“What Would Tyler Durden Do” is a blog focused on bringing you the latest gossip and news about rich and famous celebrities. And then making fun of them. Why? Because fuck them, that’s why.

Here’s a taste from today’s entry, which also includes a video clip of the trailer referenced:

If you’ve seen “Transformers” by now, you’ve also seen a teaser trailer for the most secretive project in Hollywood, a movie called “Cloverfield”, directed by JJ Abrahms and written by “Lost” writer Drew Goddard. The movie looks like a mix of Godzilla and Godzilla if he interrupted a party that someone was filming, but it’s hard to say for sure because almost nothing is known about the movie. It’s not even officially named Cloverfield yet, and the website is completely useless except for revealing the movies release date. It’s also good if you want to stand naked and have awestruck girls staring up in astonished disbelief, but that gets boring after an hour or so.

2. The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs

The current subtitle of The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs provides a sense of the blog’s tone, “Dude, I invented the friggin iPhone. Have you heard of it?”

The premise is that the blog reveals Steve Jobs’ take on current tech-related news (e.g., the iPhone iPhenomenon). It enhances the humor if the reader is familiar with who’s who and what’s what in Silicon Valley, but it’s pretty darn funny to anyone who appreciates sarcasm and wit.

This sample, Look at me! Look at me! Not the phone! Look at me!, was published 06 July 2007:

Robert Scoble1 emerges triumphant from his hero’s journey into the depths of an Apple retail store. “I did it! I bought a phone! Look! A phone! I gave them a credit card and got it, just like that!” Note the overjoyed expression on the retail dope next to him. He’s setting a new record for looking bored while clapping. No doubt by this point this guy and all his colleagues were just so sick of Scoble they couldn’t wait to see him leave. Can you imagine? Scoble sitting there for three days doing an in-person version of twitter, telling everyone everything he’s doing at every minute? “Right now I’m live blogging and now I’m podcasting and now I’m vlogging and now I’m writing another blog item …” Good grief. Best part, from what I’m told, was when Scoble finally bought his phone and handed over his credit card and the clerk looked at it for a second and Scoble said, “Um, yeah. I’m that Robert Scoble.” Clerk, for the record, had no idea what Scoble was talking about.

DrHGuy’s Cyber-Bookmarks Non-Bookmark Bonus:
Two A.E. Housman Miscellanea Items

1. The surname of the English poet and classical scholar, A.E. Housman, is pronounced as though the first syllable ended with an “s” rather than a “z.” An easy way to remember this is that the first syllable of “Housman” actually does end with an “s.”

Or, as The American Heritage Dictionary (4th Edition) puts it:

Those unsure of the sound of a hard “s” may signal a disembodied voice to produce the auditory waves corresponding to Mr. Housman’s name by clicking Hear “Housman” Pronounced

Secondary Bonus The surname of John Houseman, the director and actor who played Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr.2 in The Paper Chase, is pronounced as though the first syllable ended with a “z” (Houzeman).

2. The Housman poem read in the movie, Out of Africa, is “To An Athlete Dying Young”

  1. For those unaware of Robert Scoble’s identity, check out his bio in Wikipedia. []
  2. Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. was the law professor who intoned “Mister Hart, here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer.” Edward G. Robinson was the original choice to play the role but had to decline for health reasons []