A.E. Housman

On this date in 1859, Alfred Edward Housman was born in England. He took a "passing degree" from Oxford, and received several university appointments, moving permanently to Trinity College in 1911. His most famous work, a book of poems called A Shropshire Lad, has stayed in print since it was first published in 1896. His second, long-awaited volume of poetry, Last Poems, was published in 1922. After he died, his brother put together posthumous collections. Housman's writing was irreverent, including such lines as, "It is a fearful thing to be The Pope. That cross will not be laid on me, I hope." His poem below, with its lines "let God and man decree/Laws for themselves and not for me," was a special favorite of Margaret Sanger's. D. 1936.

“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 neighbour 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.”

—A.E. Housman, No. 12, Last Poems, 1922

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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