The Binary Opposition of the Themes in Housman’s “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”
- 10.2991/assehr.k.200428.068How to use a DOI?
- Housman, Epitaph, theme, binary opposition
Binary opposition has been a fundamental conceptual mode in the human mind to interpret the seemingly chaotic world since ancient times. In literary practice, binary opposition is a feasible way to emphasise and integrate meanings in literary works, and above all, a driving force in the mechanism of textual development. This essay attempts to analyse the writing device and the corresponding aesthetic effect in the poem “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”, composed by Alfred Edward Housman. This poem is one of the most well-known poems in his poetry collection Last Poems. Hitherto, much scholarship is attached to the poem’s themes, the poet’s language and perplexity of homosexual love for Moses Jackson, etc., whereas the writing devices of the poem remain underexplored. This essay argues that in the poem’s themes, two corresponding groups of opposite subthemes can be extracted: the contemptible in opposition to the admirable feat; paid death in opposition to the unpaid value of life. In the first group, the contrast between the world’s contemptuous attitude towards the mercenaries and the admirable virtues in the mercenaries’ valour, upgrades the sympathy into a heart-broken bitterness for the loss of those unfortunate youths. In the second group, the contrast between the dismissed death and the saviour-like role of the mercenaries underpins the personas’ subversive defiance against the traditional scorn. The Epitaph, at this moment, evolves into a charge of the cold and unfeeling world. Therefore, the exploration of the binary opposition of the subthemes in this poem can reveal the writing device that produces the tension, and explain the contribution of the binary opposition to the central theme.
- © 2020, the Authors. Published by Atlantis Press.
- Open Access
- This is an open access article distributed under the CC BY-NC license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/).
Cite this article
TY - CONF AU - Fangming Gong PY - 2020 DA - 2020/05/01 TI - The Binary Opposition of the Themes in Housman’s “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries” BT - Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Humanities and Social Science Research (ICHSSR 2020) PB - Atlantis Press SP - 315 EP - 318 SN - 2352-5398 UR - https://doi.org/10.2991/assehr.k.200428.068 DO - 10.2991/assehr.k.200428.068 ID - Gong2020 ER -