Sunday Pages: "The Laws of God, The Laws of Man"
A poem by A. E. Housman
First: to all the moms out there, especially my own mother and my wife: Happy Mother’s Day. You deserve all the flowers!
With that said, Mother’s Day has taken on a more sinister connotation this week, six days after the release of “Justice” Sam Alito’s odious draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. Scalito and his fellow clerico-fascists want to make every woman a mother, whether she wants to be or not—and they don’t care how many women suffer or die in the process. This is literally a life-and-death decision, and the Leonard Leo puppets have chosen the latter.
Is not the ultimate purpose of laws to keep people safe? Is that not government’s prime directive? Not to Alito & Co., for whom the domestic supply of infants is more important than women’s lives. (Is it meaningful at all, I wonder, that Ginni Thomas—wife of Clarence and the Queen of the Court—never had children? Is there some twisted, pathological jealousy at work? Or is it just, as it too often is, straight-up misogyny?)
Next year, we’ll have to have separate Mother’s Day categories. Forced Birth Mother’s Day isn’t the sort of thing one celebrates with brunch and spring bouquets.
For today’s “Sunday Pages,” I’m sharing the untitled twelfth poem in Last Poems by A.E. Housman. Collected and published in 1922, the entries were mostly composed before the Great War.
Alfred Edward Housman was a classical scholar, one of the greatest Britain even produced, who dashed off verse when the mood struck him. He was also gay and an atheist, two things that were hard to be if you came of age in Victorian England. The love of his life was a classmate named Moses Jackson, a strapping crew athlete, who was, to Housman’s eternal disappointment, straight. So Housman was forced to bury his affections:
Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you and I promised
To throw the thought away.
Housman followed with horror and disgust the 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde, convicted of gross indecency for being gay. (Sidenote: There is no historical figure I would want more to be alive and on Twitter than Wilde.) Housman wrote a poem about it, with “colour of his hair” being code for homosexuality:
Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after, that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they’re taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.
Brilliant, clever, lonely, poetical, Housman could only internalize his feelings and occasionally release them through verse.
As Sam Alito and his crew of hateful fanatics seem compelled to hurl us back to the days when gay love was considered gross indecency in the eyes of the Court, I wanted to share perhaps my favorite of Housman’s poems: a meditation on laws both secular and religious. For something published a full century ago, and written even earlier, it is, I think, shockingly modern:
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 or Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.
Photo credit: E. O. Hoppé, 1910. A.E. Housman.