Poem of the Week: The Laws of God, The Laws of Man, A E Housmen

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The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I, and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbor to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man’s bedevilment and God’s?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.

The Laws of God, The Laws of Man

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Shake Hands, A E Housman – an Analysis

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Title
Formal goodbye?

Gut Reaction
Aww. That’s quite…nice, isn’t it? I’ve…tried all I can to be a good friend to you but it is never enough so…goodbye and all that, I wish you well and will be there if you need me.

What does it all mean?
The end of a friendship.

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.
That’s it. Our friendship is over. I try to make you happy but all I do is piss you off. Everything I say or do is wrong in your eyes. You make me feel stupid, boring. Or maybe that’s just the way i feel around you – inadequate and uninteresting. So, that’s it. Goodbye and all that.

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

But. If you need me. For whatever reason. Whatever’s happened. Remember I’m your friend and that I love you regardless.

And the soul that was born to die for you,
And whistle and I’ll be there.

This seems a very intense friendship. A soul ‘born to die’ for someone else? I’m not sure it’s fair to think anyone is put on this Earth either for the existence of or the death of another. But this person, whoever they are, is never far away and will do whatever their friend asks of them. This is much more than a friendship, at least for the writer.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
3 stanzas of 5, 3 and 2 lines, following a friend saying goodbye.

Tone
I would like to think hopeful.

Suggested rhyme scheme
abccb
def
fe

Similes and metaphors
Its a pretty straightforward, honest poem.

Author’s relationship with their subject
Well since they are saying ‘I’ll be here whenever you need.’, I would say hopeful and loving.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Housman fell in love with his roommate Moses Jackson at university and the feeling was not mutual.

Signing off
This is about…giving up on a friendship but not giving up on a person. Loving someone knowing full well they can never love you back how you want them to.
The second stanza seems to me the most hopeful – remember me. Possibly even ‘if you decide you love me back’.
This poem, this poet’s story. It is so…. painful.
Love is a horrible thing. You don’t invite it in, you miss it when you don’t have it, and when you do you are an utter slave to your emotions. Love. Selfish love. That is easy. You fall for someone, love having them around, need them to complete you and make you feel whole. The other scale of this spectrum would be those who love without any thought for themselves – putting the other person first in all things. To me, this is just a perverse, reversed psychology of selfish love: I’m going to be so giving, so perfect, so fucking right for you that you’ll never consider anyone else ever again.
Unselfish love though. That is something different. Knowing what is right for someone, even if it isn’t you. Being happy for someone else even if it breaks you. Painful.
The lifelong friendship between Housman and Jackson is both heartening and heartbreaking. They remained friends despite the unrequited love. In spite of the poems inspired by Housman’s love for Jackson. Despite Jackson’s marriage. Housman loved him to the end. Jackson didn’t feel threatened by this love, never felt the pressure, just felt the solidarity of a good, good friendship.
Coupled with this song. Kill me. Kill me, now.

Links

A E Housman

A E Housman

When I read this I think of the song… Congratulations (which bizarrely doesn’t appear on Spotify. It is on the incredible album Foiled)

Shake Hands, AE Housman

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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.

Shake Hands