A.E. Housman’s “The Carpenter’s Son” is taken from a collection of poems called “A Shropshire Lad.” Housman complied these poems soon after the unfortunate death of a very close mate. “The Carpenter’s Son” talks about a man who made choices in his life which led him to his own demise. Housman paints himself in the poem, twists the theme of the story of the “true” carpenter’s son(Jesus), and also writes the story of his life symbolically. A.E. Housman was born in England where he spent most of his life. He excelled in his studies but failed to achieve his degree due to depression and possibly had a nervous breakdown during his final examinations. Obviously, the poem talks about Jesus and his crucifixion. The fact that he is a carpenter’s son, and that he was hanged between two thieves proves it. But Housman wrote this poem from a secular perspective. Most of all, the regret that the son shows for not following in his father’s footsteps (remember, in olden times a son was destined to take over his father’s occupation) as a carpenter is not Biblical at all (Housman 5-9).
In the poem, Housman entirely ignores the Biblical perspective of Jesus’ crucifixion, which shows that Housman was an Atheist. History shows that Housman was also homosexual which was punishable by death in the nineteenth century. This poem also shows that Housman viewed himself as the crucified Jesus regarding the persecution he faced due to his sexuality. Instead of being normal like everyone else, the carpenter’s son chose to die for love. In the poem, Housman places himself in the persona of Jesus. In saying “…had I but stayed `prenticed to my father’s trade,” Housman suggests that Jesus had feelings of regret right before he died. He uses the crucifixion of Jesus to particularly point out that Jesus died so that the people of earth could have everlasting life, and yet they shook their fists and cursed (Housman 15). So ultimately, the theme of the poem would be that though a person gives his life for love, he will still fall short of the love he gets back. People will still hang him on a cross and kill him due to their own selfish beliefs. This theme could get really controversial because Housman is known for having disputes with the church.
Also in the poem, Housman depicts Christ Lamenting that if he had been a carpenter, he would have built gallows instead of being hanged on gallows. “And the people passing by /Stop to shake their fists and curse.” These lines bring to mind the treatment Jesus received on his way to Calvary and as he was nailed to his cross. According to the Bible, spectators would spit at Jesus, slap him, and throw refuse across his path on his way to his death. He was treated even more terribly in his dying than he had been treated during his lifetime. In the poem, Christ also tells his followers to avoid his fate and live a normal life implying that they should not disrupt the normal lifestyle of society. But Christianity teaches its followers to do the right thing which is the exact opposite of what poem depicts. This further shows Housman’s denunciation of religion. Housman uses quite a good amount of figurative language in this poem.
He uses more satire than anything else in this poem. When the carpenter’s son talks about sticking to plane and adze, he means sticking to carpentry because ‘plane and adze’ is an idiom for doing wood-works. Also when he talks about people shaking fists and cursing, he creates and image of his own suffering. With the whole poem being a satire, one cannot say if the poem should be taken literally or figuratively. Housman’s sole purpose of writing this poem was to denounce religion and slam a pie on the church’s face. The poem could also be symbolic of Housman’s own pain and suffering. He also suffered for love. He also went against the norms of society by expressing his love for another man.
Housman also goes ahead that the carpenter’s son was hanged in between two criminals convicted of theft implying that the guilty and innocent were punished on equal grounds. Critically speaking, Housman misses several points and themes regarding Christ’s crucifixion. But seeing that the poem is a satire it could be said that Housman had the authority to write anything he wanted in his poem. It was very bold of him to openly write such a satire.
Housman, Alfred E. “The Carpenter’s Son.” Literature for Composition. Pearson, 2011. 1330. Print.
Web Article (Biography):
“A.E. Housman,” Poet’s Corner. Exploring Poetry – Gale. Web.