The Carpenter’s Son

2 February 2017

“We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. ” (Hebrews 10:10) Devout Christians should be familiar with those words as they revolve around the noble death of God’s one and only son, who is one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith. This man and his sacrifice are frequently referred to by poets and there are several poems whose entire message is all about Jesus Christ. One such poem is a satire written by poet A. E. Housman, titled “The Carpenter’s Son”.

Housman’s work is not your conventional religious poem as it offers a very negative view on mankind and Jesus himself, which is considered extremely offensive and crude by a large majority of readers. Yet, like many other poets, Housman’s faith greatly influenced the poetry he wrote, which was also a reflection of not only his religion, but his life. When a person goes through a pivotal event in their life, that event often changes their religious views, which can be observed in their creative writing.

The Carpenter’s Son Essay Example

The message of Housman’s poem “The Carpenter’s Son” is a reflection of signifcant incidents from his past, that altered his faith and religious beliefs such as his mother’s passing and his unrequited love for another man. While initially very devoted to his religion, the death of Housman’s mother caused him to lose faith, which seems to have greatly shaped the message of “The Carpenter’s Son”. He was born into a large and very religious family; his great-grandfather was a preacher, causing much of his life to revolve around the family’s faith.

Out of his parents and six other siblings, Housman was closest to and most attached to his mother. Unfortunately, at the age of twelve, he lost his mother to cancer. This loss of the most important person in Housman’s life struck a heavy blow to the young boy, who, as the eldest of seven children, was forced to accept a large amount of responsibility and help care for his siblings. Following his mother’s death, he soon found someone to blame for the tragedy and his misfortune: God. He resented God for ignoring his prayers and neglecting his mother’s health then suddenly taking her life away from him.

Because of those feelings caused by his mother’s death, from that moment on Housman began to lose his faith and, after a few years, completely abandoned God and his religion, becoming an atheist. Later in his early adult years, Housman was once again struck by misfortune. Another significant and tragic occurrence that contributed to the message of “The Carpenter’s Son” was the breaking of Housman’s heart when he fell in love with his heterosexual male friend. In 1877 Housman enrolled into St. John’s College which was where he met friend and classmate Moses Jackson.

At the age of twenty-one, Housman fell deeply in love with the attractive young Jackson. However, to the dismay of Housman, Jackson, who the first and last man Housman ever fell in love with, was not only heterosexual, but also criticized homosexuality, often referring to it as “beastliness”. This crushed Housman’s heart and sprouted his belief that he was cursed to live the rest of his live devoid of love. This heartbreak changed Housman’s life and most likely greatly contributed to his animosity towards his life and the God he had long deserted.

The tragedies suffered by Housman established a very bitter resentment towards his abandoned religion, which led to a negative portrayal of Jesus Christ in “The Carpenter’s Son”. As a Biblical allusion, the title of the poem does not convey much respect for the one who sacrificed his own life the sins of mankind. In fact, Housman’s choice of title causes Jesus to sound like any other mortal man as it refers to his father as being the human man who was a carpenter rather than God. This shows how low his regard for such an honoured figure was, a result of his bitterness towards his former faith.

The poem itself delves further into Housman’s resentment towards Jesus and Christianity when Housman takes on the persona of “the Carpenter’s Son” himself. The nursery-rhyme like rhythm makes the mood seem almost mocking as Housman depicts Christ as regretting his decision to sacrifice himself and has him advising others to save themselves rather than following in his footsteps. The voicing of his regret makes it seem like he wants the reader to feel guilty, ending the first and final stanza with the words “Fare you well, for ill fare I: Live, lads, and I will die. That regret is emphasized by his wish that he had chosen to stay and work with his father rather than sacrifice his life and experience so much suffering.

Then, the lines “Oh, at home had I but stayed [… ] then I might have built perhaps Gallow-trees for other chaps, never dangled on my own,” even goes so far as to imply he regrets his decision so much that he would prefer that it was someone else in his place. After lamenting his poor decision, he then advises others to not make the same mistake he did for he himself wishes he had chosen to save his own life rather than die for others.

This portrayal of Jesus was a blasphemous one, to say the least, completely contradicting the bible and demeaning the sacred character of Christ. Housman’s poem makes Christ come across as selfish and cowardly, two words that are almost never associated with Christ in the bible. Also, the last thing people are supposed to learn from Jesus’ actions is that sacrificing yourself for the betterment of others is not worth it, and yet that is exactly what Housman has Christ implying the entire poem.

Housman, as a formerly devout member of the Christian faith, was most likely well aware of how offensive his interpretation of Christ was and how every aspect of his poem defied the words of the Bible, but his poem was written that way for a reason. The tragedies Housman suffered, mainly the death of his mother and the loss of his only love, caused him to lose hope, abandoning, and even bearing a grudge against, God and his former religion. This resentment influenced his writing producing such a bitter commentary on the Christian religion as “The Carpenter’s Son”, showing just how much impact a poet’s life has on their writing.

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The Carpenter's Son. (2017, Feb 03). Retrieved April 15, 2021, from
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