A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Shake hands, we shall never be friends, all’s over;
I only vex you the more I try.
All’s wrong that ever I’ve done or said,
And nought to help it in this dull head:
Shake hands, here’s luck, good-bye.
But if you come to a road where danger
Or guilt or anguish or shame’s to share,
Be good to the lad that loves you true
And the soul that was born to die for you,
And whistle and I’ll be there.
Like virtually all of Housman’s poetry, this poem was inspired by Housman’s hopeless affection for Moses Jackson, an athlete whom Housman met when they were both studying at Oxford in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Jackson later married and emigrated to Canada, but Housman remained loyal, nurturing an impossible love for Jackson until the day Jackson died in 1923. After that, Housman didn’t write any further poems: his muse had gone.
Alfred Edward Housman (1859 – 1936) was an English classical scholar and poet, best known to the general public for his cycle of poems A Shropshire Lad. Lyrical and almost epigrammatic in form, the poems wistfully evoke the dooms and disappointments of youth in the English countryside. Their beauty, simplicity and distinctive imagery appealed strongly to late Victorian and Edwardian taste, and to many early 20th-century English composers both before and after the First World War. Through their song-settings, the poems became closely associated with that era, and with Shropshire itself. Housman was one of the foremost classicists of his age and has been ranked as one of the greatest scholars who ever lived. He established his reputation publishing as a private scholar and, on the strength and quality of his work, was appointed Professor of Latin at University College London and then at the University of Cambridge. His editions of Juvenal, Manilius and Lucan are still considered authoritative. [bio adapted from Wikipedia and Interesting Literature]