A. E. Housman: Poems Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

A. E. Housman: Poems Symbols, Allegory and Motifs


The beacon is a strong symbol of hope and life. These positive connotations are strengthened through the religious and patriotic overtones of the poem. The beacon also represents the legacy of individuals. This beacon "burns" on the way to "heaven". In this way, the beacon is symbol of a person's life force, potential, dreams and desires. These aspects are able to transcend mortal existence, as they journey form the person to eternity. Thus, the beacon also represents eternal life and joy.


Nature is a key motif throughout the poems. This can be seen through references to the hills and the Nile, as well as evocative visual imagery in lines such as "the hills are bright, the dales are light." Housman's poems provide a positive appraisal of the power of nature. The poet holds a Romantic view of the awe-inspiring power of nature to lift and elevate the soul. In this way, the positive nature motif reinforces key themes such as life and regeneration.

Directions and linearity

Another significant motif in the poems is the motif of geographical directions. This can be seen in repeated quotes such as "from north and south" and "look left, look right", which give the poem a strong authoritative tone. The numerous references to directions and distant planes and events are deeply significant. These emphasise the poet's preoccupation with the passage of time and the mortality of life. This is because Housman presents life as a complex journey of the soul. Through this significant motif, Housman suggests that through overcoming obstacles anf barriers, a person travels towards the ultimate destination of heaven. This is clearly seen in the very first line, "from Clee to heaven the beacon burns", which introduces the importance of this directional motif.


In the poem, the flame represents power and authority. In particular, the flame represents the Queen, as Housman's poem is a celebration of the monarch's life and the patriotism of the Queen's jubilee. By representing her as a flame, Housman emphasises her energy, power and action. The flame also represents her omnipotent power, as flames and fires are powerful literary symbols of strength and longevity.

Allegory for the soul's journey through life

Many of Housman's poems are deeply symbolic and provide an allegory for the soul's journey through life. This can be seen through the focus on suffering and hardships, paralelled by the emphasis on strength, power and courage. These notions are symbolised in the poem through the symbolic images of the beacon and flame, which represent the soul's ability to transcend difficult times. Furthermore, his poems have a strong emphasis on temporality and the linear progression of time, presenting human life as a complex journey of the soul towards salvation. Finally, the poem's preoccupation with death indicates that, at the end of life, the soul transcends the body and exists in eternity. This can be seen through the cyclical structure of the poem. This idea is raised in the very first line "From Clee to heaven the beacon burns", as well as towards the end of the poem with references to fallen soldiers "The saviours come not home tonight: themselves they couldn't save."

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