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Loveliest of trees, the cherry now -- A E Housman

       
(Poem #377) Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
-- A E Housman
'A Shropshire Lad', Poem II.

First, the obligatory Brittanica excerpt:

"Apparently convinced that he must live without love, Housman became
increasingly reclusive and for solace turned to his notebooks, in which
he had begun to write the poems that eventually made up A Shropshire Lad
(1896). For models he claimed the poems of Heinrich Heine, the songs of
William Shakespeare, and the Scottish border ballads. Each provided him
with a way of expressing emotion clearly and yet keeping it at a certain
distance. For the same purpose, he assumed in his lyrics the unlikely
role of farm labourer and set them in Shropshire, a county he had not
yet visited when he began to write the first poems. The popularity of A
Shropshire Lad grew slowly but so surely that Last Poems (1922) had
astonishing success for a book of verse. "

The poems in A Shropshire Lad are instantly recognizable for their
delicate, airy touch and their Romantic melancholy - in them, Housman
captures a particular mood and a particular period with exquisite skill
and charm. The verse itself is uneven at best - while pieces like
'Loveliest of Trees' and 'White in the Moon' (the first Housman I read,
and still my favourite) are justly celebrated, others are eminently
forgettable. Nonetheless, the collection as a whole seems assured of a
place among the greats, and I for one am not going to cavil at that.

thomas.

PS. As you may have guessed, cherry blossom season is just starting here
in Japan, and the nation is going through its annual spiritual rebirth.
There's a wonderful haiku by Basho about plum-blossoms which I sent out
around this time last year; you can read it at poem #56

PPS. The poem I mentioned:
'White in the Moon the long road lies
That leads me from my Love.'
is archived at poem #33

34 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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kamagra said...

this'll be my new poem and it'd be nice if you can add something similar:

The last word this one spoke
was my name. The last word
that one spoke
was my name.

My two friends
had never met. But when they said
that last word
they spoke to each other.

I am proud to have given them a language
of one word. A narrow space
in which, without knowing it,
they met each other at last.

Anonymous said...

I came upon this site because I'm singing the Shropshire Lad songs (again!). When I was in conservatory, our art song teacher talked about Housman meaning this one as an ode to a much younger man he felt he couldn't have. That apparently he became quite depressed because either the man had rejected him, or he simply felt too old to even approach him, hence a lot of his sadder stuff around this time. Do you know any good sources to try to verify any of that?

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