»  A.E. Housman's "I Counsel You Beware"


I Counsel You Beware

by A.E. Housman, 1859-1936


•  Background

As is the case with Diffugere nives, this poem was not published until after the poet's death (at age 77, three months after Kipling).

Housman's verse generates strong reactions. Some find it irresistible; some find it repellent. I am in the former category.

Housman was solitary, melancholy, and a stone atheist. Classical scholarship — mainly on the Latin authors — was his whole life. Other scholars in that field revered him, and I think still do.

My favorite Housman story, again.

•  Notes

Solipsism is the philosophical expression of extreme egoism. A solipsist believes that nothing exists but his own mental states. All else, including other human beings, is dream-stuff generated somehow by the one mind — his.

As a philosophical doctrine, solipsism is not very respectable because of its utter nihilism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy includes no entry for "solipsism" in its table of contents. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a different source, does have an entry under "Solipsism and the Problem of Other Minds," from which:

No great philosopher has espoused solipsism. As a theory, if indeed it can be termed such, it is clearly very far removed from common sense. In view of this, it might reasonably be asked why the problem of solipsism should receive any philosophical attention …

The best story about solipsism is this one from — no surprise — Bertrand Russell in his 1948 book Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits.

As against solipsism it is to be said, in the first place, that it is psychologically impossible to believe, and is rejected in fact even by those who mean to accept it. I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me.

Whatever may be the case with solipsistic persons, solipsistic verse is a very tiny category. This is, so far as I know, its only gem.


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem

Good creatures, do you love your lives
And have you ears for sense?
Here is a knife like other knives,
That cost me eighteen pence.

I need but stick it in my heart
And down will come the sky,
And earth's foundations will depart
And all you folk will die.