Only once does the mask slip, in the sole surviving letter to Moses Jackson, the Oxford contemporary to whom Housman devoted himself, but from whom, in Laurence Housman's carefully chosen words, "there was no response in kind". Forty years on, with Jackson dying of stomach cancer, A. E. Housman sent him a copy of Last Poems with what came as close as he ever dared to writing a love letter, just as his nickname for Moses, "Mo", stopped tantalizingly short of being a confession of love, "Amo".
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 rather have followed you round the world and blacked your boots.
The desperate blokeishness of this suggests how raw Housman's wounds still were, but the little dabs of alliteration ("bloke...blacked...boots") also hint at an attempt to find a healing pattern in his grief, so it is entirely fitting that Housman was reworking an earlier attempt to make sense of their star-crossed relationship, in a draft of A Shropshire Lad IX, which dreams of "shoes I'd liefer black than most/ That walk upon the land".
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
A. E. Houseman's letter to Moses Jackson
from Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's TLS review of The Letters of A. E. Housman edited by Archie Burnett: