Housman’s ‘Because I Liked You Better’ deals, like most of his other poems, with the theme of unrequited love. In this short and simple poem, the speaker first describes the relationship and then he informs readers how it ended. The end is tragic. Still, it has something to add to the meaning of this piece. In the end, the death of the speaker is undoubtedly a heartbroken tribute to his lady love. To keep his word, he fearlessly chose a path that ends in nowhere. There is no way to return. In this way, Housman reveals the dedication of the speaker.
At first, the speaker or the poetic persona informs the lady love that he liked more than any man can express in words. His devotion somehow irked the lady. So he promised to stay away from her and put a huge distance between them. To fulfill his promise, he chose death.
After his death, when the lady accidentally comes across his grave, there is none to greet her, as he did. The heart that once stirred for the lady, is now still. It said to the lady that the lad who once loved her was the only person who kept his word.
This poem consists of four stanzas. Each stanza contains four rhyming lines. There is a specific rhyme scheme in this piece and it follows the scheme of the ballad stanza. Housman uses the ABCB rhyme scheme throughout the poem. So, the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme together.
In each stanza, the syllable count is 7-6-7-6. The stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. For this reason, the overall poem is composed in iambic trimeter. The lines having 7 syllables contain a hypermetrical foot or an unstressed syllable at the end.
The most important literary device of this poem is enjambment. This device helps the poet to internally connect the lines. For example, the first two lines, “Because I liked you better/ Than suits a man to say.”
The second stanza begins with hyperbole. In the first line, “world” is a symbolic reference to the distance between the lovers.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
To throw the thought away.
‘Because I Liked You Better’ begins in a sense of continuity. The relationship has ended. Still, in the speaker’s memory, it is fresh. He liked a lady better than a man can convey in words. Using this hyperbolic expression, he reveals his dedication to the lady.
But his devotion to the lady backfired. It made her angry, to be specific, annoyed. For this reason, he promises to throw such thoughts away from his mind. In this way, the first stanza shows the character of the lady as well as the truthfulness of the speaker. Besides, this stanza paints a monotonous and heart-wrenching mood in the text.
To put the world between us
We parted, stiff and dry;
`Good-bye,’ said you, `forget me.’
`I will, no fear’, said I.
As he has said earlier, he had to stop loving that lady. To put a world between them, he parted with a “stiff and dry” heart. The words “stiff” and “dry” are used to make a comparison between the speaker’s heart to an object. Apart from that, Housman uses the word, “world” to depict the distance between the earth and the realm of death.
At the time of parting, the lady told him to forget her as early as he could. In reply, he told her there was nothing to fear. As he would keep that promise.
If here, where clover whitens
The dead man’s knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
Starts in the trefoiled grass,
In the third stanza of ‘Because I Liked You Better,’ the speaker presents an image of a grave. This grave belongs to none other than the speaker. If the lady comes across his grave accidentally, she can find the clover whitens it. Clover is a kind of plant, with dense globular flowers and three-lobed leaves. It can be seen around his grave.
When the lady passes by, no tall flower in the “trefoiled grass” raises its head to meet her. “Trefoiled grass” is a metaphor for clover. The flowers will not greet the lady as she has caused the person lying beneath them extreme pain.
Halt by the headstone naming
The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
Was one that kept his word.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker requests her to halt by the grave. The headstone contains his name. He loved the lady and his heart stirred whenever he saw her. But, now it is still as stone and lost the ability to stir.
The heart of the speaker tells the lady that the lad who loved her is no more. He died for keeping the word. By accepting death, he created a huge distance that the lady dare not cover in her lifetime. On this tragic note, this poem ends.
‘Because I Liked You Better’ appears in A. E. Housman’s poetry collection “More Poems,” associated with his poem cycle, “A Shropshire Lad”. It is the 31st poem of the series. After he died in 1936, his brother Laurence over the next two years published his poem from his manuscripts. “More Poems” was published in 1936. Poems 30 and 31 of this collection refer to the broken relations with Moses Jackson. Therefore, this poem reveals Housman’s deep relationship with Moses and how it was affected.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly speaks on the themes present in A. E. Housman’s ‘Because I Liked You Better’.
- My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close by Emily Dickinson – It’s one of the best-known poems of Dickinson. This poem used heartbreak as a metaphor for death and experiments with the meaning of “closure.” Read more Emily Dickinson poems.
- Never Give All The Heart by William Butler Yeats – This poem urges men not to devote completely to a person. Explore Yeats’ best poems and more W. B. Yeats poetry.
- Time does not bring relief; you all have lied by Edna St. Vincent Millay – This sonnet speaks on an emotionally damaged woman, seeking relief from heartache. Explore more Edna St. Vincent Millay poetry.
- I Find no Peace by Thomas Wyatt – This piece explores the complex nature of love and its impact on the speaker who loves. Read more poems by Thomas Wyatt.