‘Ashes under Uricon’: Historicizing A. E. Housman, Reifying T. H. Huxley, Embracing Lucretius

  • Kenneth Womack


In his 1911 Cambridge Inaugural Lecture, A. E. Housman alluded to the same scientific and natural laws that informed, thematically and ideologically, much of his earlier poetic oeuvre: ‘This fright, this night of the mind, must be dispelled not by the rays of the sun, nor day’s bright spears, but by the face of nature and her laws. And this is her first, from which we take our start: nothing was ever by miracle made from nothing’ (26). In this remarkably Lucretian phrase, as well as in his own work as poet and classical editor, Housman reveals his great regard for Lucretius and his ancient philosophy. Housman’s admiration for Lucretius has indeed been well-documented; he once praised the poet-philosopher’s De Reruiim Natura lovingly as ‘a work more compact of excellence than any edition of any classic produced in England’ (Graves, 1979, p. 166). Lucretius’ Epicurean ontology profoundly influenced Housman’s poetry, particularly in the poet’s 1896 volume, A Shropshire Lad, while at the same time impinging upon Housman’s own interest in the means of human existence and the topos of atomic theory — Lucretian concepts that fathered the notion of ‘the stuff of life’ so prevalent in Housman’s poetry.1


Epicurean Ideal Ordinary Matter Human Soul Human Fear Classical Editor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bayley, John. Housman’s Poems (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bishop, John Peale. ‘The Poetry of A. E. Housman’, Poetry, 56 (1940), pp. 144–53.Google Scholar
  3. Brooks, Cleanth. ‘Alfred Edward Housman’, A. E. Housmnn: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Christopher Ricks (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), pp. 62–84.Google Scholar
  4. Clay, Diskin. Lucretius and Epicurus (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  5. di Gregorio, Mario. A. T. H. Huxley’s Place in Natural Science (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  6. Graves, Richard Perceval. A. E. Housman: The Scholar Poet (New York: Scribner’s, 1979).Google Scholar
  7. Haber, Tom Burns. A. E. Housman (New York: Twayne, 1967).Google Scholar
  8. Housman, A. E. The Collected Poems of A. E. Housman (New York: Holt, 1965).Google Scholar
  9. The Confines of Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969).Google Scholar
  10. The Letters of A. E. Housman ed. Henry Maas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  11. Huxley, Thomas Henry. Collected Essays; Volume I: Methods and Results (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1968).Google Scholar
  12. Leggett, B. J. The Poetic Art of A. E. Housman: Theory and Practice (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  13. Lucretius. De Rerum Natuna, Introduction Frank O. Copley (New York: Norton, 1977).Google Scholar
  14. McGann, Jerome J. The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in His-torical Method and Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  15. Marlow, Norman. A. E. Housman: Scholar and Poet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958).Google Scholar
  16. Page, Norman. A. E. Housman: A Critical Biography (London: Macmillan, 1983).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rosenbaum, Stephen. ‘Epicurus and Annihilation’, Philosophical Quarterly, 39 (1989), pp. 81–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Rosenbaum, Stephen. ‘How to Be Dead and Not Care: A Defense of Epicurus’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 23 (1986), pp. 217–25.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth Womack

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations