Share

.
.
Loveliest of Trees
A Poem by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)
A Study Guide
Cummings Guides Home..|..Contact This Site
.
Type of Work, Publication
Themes
Meter
End Rhyme
Summary
Poem Text and Notes
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Another Housman Poem
Biography of Housman
Index of Study Guides
.
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2010
.
Type of Work and Publication Background

......."Loveliest of Trees" is a lyric poem focusing on appreciating the beauty of nature year-round. The London firm of Kegan Paul, Trench, Treubner & Company published it in 1896 as the second poem in A Shropshire Lad, a collection of sixty-three of Housman's poems.

Themes

Do It Now

.......You will not live forever. Therefore, make the most of the opportunities of the moment. For example, if it is winter, do not sit indoors to await the springtime blooming of the loveliest of trees, the cherry. Instead, seize the opportunity to view the trees now, when the trees blossom with snow. 
.......The Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC) popularized the idea of living for the moment in an ode published in 23 BC. He wrote, "Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero." Loosely translated, this sentence says, "Seize the day rather than placing your trust in the future." Over the centuries, the words carpe diem, or seize the day, gained widespread currency among poets and other writers as a term for urging readers to make the most of present opportunities. 

Warm Up to Winter

.......Implicit in the poem's meaning is that spring and its warm-weather cousin, summer, hold no monopoly on beauty. In the fall, fields and forests blazon with color--the red of the apple, the orange of the pumpkin, and the russet or gold of the leaf. In the winter, the landscape is a work of art, with pendent icicles, frosted meadows, or drifting snow. 

See the Beauty in People

.......One may interpret the cherry tree as a metaphor for children. In their innocence and purity, they are like the white cherry blossoms, and are always delightful to observe and be around. In this interpretation, summer represents young adulthood; autumn, middle age; and winter; old age and death. Each age has its beauty--even old age, when the soul shines through the eyes with the wisdom of accumulated experience. 

Meter
 

.......The meter in the poem varies, but most of the lines are in iambic tetrameter. In this format, each line has four pairs of syllables, the first syllable of each pair unstressed and the second stressed, as in lines 2 and 3:

......1....................2.................3...................4
Is HUNG..|..with BLOOM..|..a LONG..|..the BOUGH

..........1..................2..................3................4
And STANDS..|..a BOUT..|..the WOOD..|..land RIDE

Several tetrameter lines in the poem place stress on the first syllable and thus are in trochaic tetrameter. Line 4 is an example.
......1..................2.................3.............4
WEAR ing..|..WHITE for..|..EAST er..|..TIDE
You probably noticed that the fourth foot has only one syllable. The literary term used to identify such a foot is catalexis, and the foot is called a catalectic foot. Another example of trochaic tetrameter with a catalectic foot is line 6:
....1.................2................3............4
FIF ty..|..SPRINGS is..|..LIT tle..|..ROOM
End Rhyme

.......In each stanza the first line rhymes with the second, and the third line rhymes with the fourth. Two successive rhyming lines make up what is called a couplet. 

Summary

.......On a ride through the woods after Easter Sunday, the speaker observes a cherry tree with its white blossoms. Noting that he is twenty years old, he estimates that about fifty years of his life remain. A half-century is not really a long time, he says. Consequently, he will make the most of the rest of his life, he says, by observing the cherry tree in winter--when snow clings to its boughs--as well as spring. 
.
..

Loveliest of Trees
By A. E. Housman
Text and Notes

Loveliest of trees the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough
And stands about the woodland ride1
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now of my three score years and ten,2
twenty will not come again.
And take from seventy years a score, 
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom,3
Fifty Springs is little room, 
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
 

Notes

1...woodland ride: The speaker is in a carriage or on horseback.
2...three . . . ten: These words allude to a passage in the Bible spoken by Moses: "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away" (Psalms 90:10). After the publication of the Bible in English, the phrase threescore years and ten gained widespread use in literary works and ordinary conversation in references to the expected life span of a man..
3..things in bloom: The speaker apparently plans to observe more than cherry trees. He may even begin taking a closer look at the beauty in relatives, friends,and other people. (See Themes, Beauty in People.)
 

.
..
Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem.

Alliteration

Line 2:.......bloom along the bough
Lines 3-4:..woodland ride / Wearing white
Lines 5-6:..years and ten, / twenty will not
Line 7:.......take from seventy
Line 8:.......only leaves me fifty
Line 9:.......to look at things in bloom
Line 11:....woodlands I will go
Line 12:....see the cherry hung with snow
Synecdoche
Line 6:.....Fifty Springs is little room
...............Springs represents years.
Metaphor/Personification
Lines 1, 2, 4: The cherry . . . is . . . wearing white for Eastertide.
....................Comparison of the tree to a person who has chosen to wear white for the Easter season
Study Questions and Writing Topics

1. Write a short poem centering on the beauty of nature. Imitate the rhyme scheme in "Loveliest of Trees."
2. Is the speaker correct to associate the color of cherry blossoms with Eastertide? Explain your answer. 
3. The speaker says he expects to live to age seventy. What was the actual life expectancy of human beings in 1896, when Housman wrote the poem?
4. Write an essay explaining the theme of carpe diem for an audience of your peers. Quote from at least four poems. Besides "Loveliest of Trees," poems that center on carpe diem include "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time"; "Go, Lovely Rose"; and "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love." You may also quote, paraphrase, or summarize passages from novels, plays, and short stories. 

.