‘Loveliest of Trees’ is one of several popular poems that A.E. Housman published in his volume A Shropshire Lad. It was published, with his own funds, in 1896. The poem explores the themes of life and death, as well as the progression of time and the temporary nature of pleasure and beauty.
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The poem details the speaker’s age, the fact that he loves looking at nature, and the unavoidable truth of human existence. Time is limited, therefore, the speaker declares, he needs to spend all the time he can while he’s still alive looking at these trees he loves. The tree is a symbol for the wider natural world and all beautiful, fulfilling things. The moral of the story is that one should not waste their life on things that do not please them.
The title of the poem, ‘Loveliest of Trees’ refers to the cherry trees that appear to the speaker as the most pleasant to look at. When cherry blossoms, it makes the speaker think about how short his life is to enjoy such scenic beauty. Often when he passes through the woodland in spring, the flower reminds him how much time he has to capture this momentary beauty of nature. According to him, life is too short to drink beauty to the lees. With this monotonous idea, he moves on and waits to see the cherry blossoms hung with the metaphorical “snow”.
‘Loveliest of Trees’ by A. E. Housman is a twelve-line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCC, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The sing-song-like rhyme of these lines helps paint a picture of the perfect springtime scene the speaker is thinking of. Additionally, most of the lines are written in what is known as iambic tetrameter. This means that the majority of the lines are made up of two sets of four beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. But, several lines break the pattern.
The tone of this piece is emotive, direct, and monotonous. In the first stanza, the speaker describes how the cherry flowers captivate his soul with a praising tone. While readers move to the next stanzas, the way he speaks changes as the theme of this piece takes a new turn. The ideas present in those stanzas are rather depressing. Here, the speaker talks about how much time he still has on this earth to enjoy numerous beautiful things of nature. For this reason, the tone changes. In the last stanza, it is starkly pessimistic as here Housman talks about the transience of life.
Housman makes use of several literary devices in ‘Loveliest of Trees’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and assonance. The latter, assonance, is seen through the repetition of vowel sounds. For example, “tide,” “white,” and “Eastertide” in lines three and four another example is “seventy,” “leaves,” “me,” and “fifty” in lines seven and eight. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “bloom” and “bough” in line two and “Wearing white” in line three.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines one and two and that between lines nine and ten.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
In the first stanza of ‘Loveliest of Trees,’ the speaker begins by making use of the phrase that later came to be used as the title. He describes throughout the first lines that it is his goal to appreciate the “Loveliest of trees,” the cherry blossom, while he can.
The speaker can see the tree in his mind’s eye as being “hung” and heavy with “bloom along the bough”. The first rhyme in the first two lines, as well as the use of alliteration, help create an idealized image of the tree. It is “Wearing white for Eastertide,” a reference to the color of the cherry blossom’s blooms and the springtime season it blooms in. The tree is on a “woodland ride,” or a path meant for a horse.
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.
He knows that his time on earth is limited, as seen through the use of numbers and reference to the biblical lifespan in this stanza. The speaker says that “Twenty” of his years will not “come again”. He’s twenty years old and knows that he only has “threescore years and ten” left to live.
The reference to seventy years of life is brought back up in the seventh line. It comes from the Bible and the statement that seventy years is an average person’s lifespan. This poem is both a reminder to live one’s life to the fullest while also a reminder that death will come no matter what one does.
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.
As a twenty-year-old man, he knows that he only has “fifty more” springs to appreciate the beauty of the cherry blossom trees. That, he states, is not enough time to truly appreciate “things in bloom”. So, he determines, that is enough talk. Now it is time for action. He’s going to the “woodlands” to “see the cherry hung with snow”. The freshness of this scene is temporary. The whiteness of the blossoms is something he’s only going to see a limited number of times.
The poem, ‘Loveliest of Trees’ was published in A.E. Housman’s poetry collection “A Shropshire Lad” in 1896. It includes sixty-three poems and the poem, ‘Loveliest of Trees’ is the second poem of the volume. Housman probably composed the verses of this piece in May or July of 1895.
A cherry tree grew in the garden of Perry Hall. Housman lived there until his mother’s death when he was merely 12. It seems that the poet is talking about this tree in this poem. So, he had developed a childhood relationship with it. The way he talks about the cherry blossoms reveals the underlying grief in his heart for his mother’s death. Through this piece, he taps on the themes of death, transience, time, and the futility of life.
The speaker calls the cherry the “Loveliest of trees.” He thinks so after looking at its flowers that are hung on the boughs in the month of spring.
A.E. Housman’s speaker calls the cherry tree the loveliest of all trees for its beautiful flowers hung on its boughs in spring. There was a cherry tree in the poet’s childhood home. It seems that he is alluding to that tree in this poem.
In this poem, Housman depicts the cherry blossoms that bloom in April. The tree stands by the woodland ride. By this reference to the cherry flowers and their beauty, the speaker brings home the idea that life is too short to enjoy such beautiful things of nature.
In this line, “Fifty springs are little room” the speaker talks about how much time he still has to live. He thinks that fifty years are not enough to fully satiate oneself with the beauty of cherry blossoms. Here, “little room” indicates how short one’s life is on this earth.
The main theme of ‘Loveliest of Trees’ is the impermanence of human life. It also taps on the themes of natural beauty, death, and the transience of life.
The speaker is twenty years old. In Psalm 90, Verse 10 it is written that a human lives for threescore years and ten. It equals 70 years. As the speaker says, “It only leaves me fifty more,” it means he is twenty years old.
The poem, ‘Loveliest of Trees’ is set in Spring. In the poet’s native country, this season is observed in April. During that month, cherry blossoming takes place.
The “cherry tree” is a metaphor for life. Like its flowers only spring in April for a short duration, a human’s life is also transient. To be specific, here the comparison is made between the cherry flowers to human lives.
Eastertide is observed in April and it’s the same month when cherry blossoms bloom. “White” being a symbol of purity, it appears to the speaker as if the flowers are also a part of this religious ceremony. The cherry blossom is a symbol of innocence and chastity that are the attributes of Christ.
Here is a list of poems that are similar to the themes present in A.E. Housman’s lyric, ‘Loveliest of Trees’.
- ‘Risk’ by Anaïs Nin – This poem contains a metaphor of a garden that expresses a tale of change after turmoil. Read more Anaïs Nin poems.
- ‘A Route of Evanescence’ by Emily Dickinson – It’s one of the best of Emily Dickinson’s poems. This poem explores the themes of nature and human’s understanding of the natural world. Explore more poems of Emily Dickinson.
- ‘Poppies in October’ by Sylvia Plath – It’s one of the popular poems of Sylvia Plath. This poem depicts the contrast between life and death in a melancholic tone. Read more poems from Sylvia Plath.
- ‘The Blossome‘ by John Donne – It’s one of the best-known poems of John Donne. In this poem, Donne uses the imagery of a “blossom” to bring out the scornful pride of his beloved and the fleeting nature of her beauty. Explore more John Donne poems.