‘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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Summary of Loveliest of Trees
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 bring them pleasure.
Structure of Loveliest of Trees
‘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.
Literary Devices in Loveliest of Trees
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 in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines one and two and that between lines nine and ten.
Analysis of Loveliest of Trees
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,
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. He knows that his time on earth is limited, as seen through the use of numbers and reference to the biblical lifespan in line seven.
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 sue of alliteration, help create an idealized image of the tree. It is “Wearing white for Eastertide,” a reference 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.
The speaker says that “Twenty” of his years will not “come again”. He’s twenty years old and nows that he only has “threescore years and ten” left to live.
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.
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.
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.