“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 neighbor 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.”
The above poem expresses Houseman’s desire for a society in which personal morality is a matter for the individual rather than an issue which could lead to imprisonment. The poet was a homosexual at a time when to practice homosexuality could lead one to be imprisoned as was the case with Oscar Wilde who languished in Reading Jail for practicing “the sin that dare not speak it’s name”. Houseman had an unrequited love for his Oxford contemporary Moses Jackson, a love which led to the end of their friendship. Throughout his life Houseman remained discreet and never suffered the fate of Wilde, however in the above poem one hears the poet’s anger against the strictures of his day.
Houseman died in 1936 so never witnessed the passing of legislation which decriminalised homosexual acts between consenting adults. He would no doubt have seen the passage of the legislation as being long overdue.