Loveliest of Trees -Cherry

Loveliest of Trees

by Alfred Edward Housman

Loveliest of Trees – Summary & Analysis

In Short

  • The speaker is delighted to see the beautiful cherry trees in full bloom in spring beside the woodland path.
  • He regrets that he has already lost precious twenty years of his life and is now left with fifty more.
  • As fifty springs are very little time to truly appreciate nature’s beauty, he now won’t waste more time and go out to see the cherry trees covered with snow in winter, as well as in spring.

Loveliest of Trees – Explanation

Stanza 1

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,

In one of the beautiful poems written by A. E. Housman, the speaker considers cherry tree as the loveliest of trees. It looks very beautiful. Now the cherry tree is in full bloom. All branches are covered with flowers. Those branches are bending down towards the ground due to the heavy load of the bloom. The speaker is very much glad to see this beauty.

And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

The cherry tree is standing by the woodland path. This path is used by the speaker for horse ride. The tree is totally covered with white cherry flowers. It looks as if it is ready to celebrate Easter. “Eastertide” is another word for Easter time, the period around Easter, the holiday on which the Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

“White” which signifies peace and purity, is the liturgical color of Easter. It appears to the speaker as if the flowers are also a part of the religious ceremony. Both cherry flower blooming and celebration of Easter indicate that the time is spring, maybe the month of April.

Stanza 2

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,

In this second stanza, the speaker talks about the biblical reference of the age of a man. According to the bible, a man can live “three score years and ten”, i.e., seventy years (score means twenty). But the speaker has crossed his twenty years of lifespan. It will not come back to him. It also indicates that he is twenty years old.

And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

In a seventy-year average lifespan, spring comes seventy times in a person’s life. Now from his ‘seventy springs’, the speaker has lost twenty years. So, he has only fifty more years left. That is fifty more times to see and enjoy these cherry trees wearing white.

The word ‘only’ in line 8 suggests that the speaker laments the loss of twenty years from his total life time. Only a short time is left to enjoy this beautiful world. The speaker already feels the loss of years behind him.

Stanza 3

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,

The speaker now knows that he has only fifty more “springs” to enjoy the beauty of “things in bloom”. Actually, he would not only enjoy the blooming of the cherry trees, but also every beautiful thing in the whole world. So, he claims that “fifty springs” are not enough time (little room) to truly appreciate all beautiful things in life. The time left for him is very short.

About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

So, our speaker now wants to make the most of the rest of his life by going through the woodlands and looking at the cherry even in winter when they are covered with snow, as well as in spring. He would want to enjoy the beauty of not only the cherry trees but of all beautiful things in nature.

Loveliest of Trees – Into details

Publication

A.E. Housman or Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936) was one of the foremost English classical scholar and poet. “Loveliest of trees” is a very short poem written by him most possibly in May or July of 1895. It is the second poem in “A Shropshire Lad”, a collection of sixty-three poems, published in 1896.

Background

Housman wrote this poem in the year 1895. In his childhood, he lived in the Perry Hall. A cherry tree grew there in the garden. Housman lived there until his mother’s death when he was merely 12. A childhood bonding was developed between them. It seems that this cherry tree had a great influence upon Housman and inspired him to write this poem.

Setting

“Loveliest of Trees” was published in the poetry collection “A Shropshire Lad”. Most of the poems in this book take place in the rural environs of Shropshire, a county in western England along England’s border with wales.

The present poem also depicts a countryside scene with a cherry tree in full bloom beside the woodland riding path. It is a quiet, peaceful world. The blooming cherry trees and the Easter festival indicate that it is springtime.

Title

The title of the poem “Loveliest of trees” refers to the cherry trees. It is very pleasant to look at. When cherry blossoms, the poet thinks life is very short to enjoy such beauty. Actually, he wants to say that life is too short to enjoy all the beautiful things nature has to offer us, that’s why he wants to drink beauty to the lees.

However, the title here is rather straightforward and is all about the subject matter of the poem, and hence appropriate.

Form and language

The poem “Loveliest of Trees” depicts the beauty of nature and at the same time it explains why one should enjoy life to its fullest or live by carpe diem. The lyric poem by A. E. Housman consists of 12 lines divided into three stanzas. The language is very much simple and lucid. The words used in this poem are encouraging to the readers. It gives a positive attitude towards life.

Meter and Rhyme scheme

This poem consists of 3 stanzas. Each stanza follows a simple rhyme scheme, i.e., AABB CCDD EEFF. This kind of rhythmic pattern helps to paint the picture of a perfect springtime scene.

As for the metrical pattern, most of the lines of this poem are written in iambic tetrameter. Several lines break the pattern though. By the way, an iamb is a di-syllabic metrical foot where the second syllable is stressed or accented. And, tetrameter means a line consisting of four such feet.

Loveliest | of trees, | the cher– | ry now
Is hung | with bloom | along | the bough,
And stands | about | the wood– | land ride
Wearing | white for | Easter- | tide.

In the above example, we see that the second and the third lines truly follow iambic tetrameter pattern. The fourth line is trochaic (first syllable is accented) tetrameter.

Loveliest of Trees – Themes

The impermanence of life

The speaker talks about the cherry trees which are the loveliest of all trees, according to him. He witnesses this along the road in woodland. The beauty and purity of this sight makes him think of the transient life. He starts to count the remaining years of his life which makes him sad.

He realizes that twenty springs has gone from his life and will never come back. So, he determines to enjoy the beauty of nature to the fullest extent. Through this poem, the poet shows the fleeting nature of time which constantly ticks away and we can’t hold it. Therefore, as mortal beings, we should avail ourselves every chance to enjoy the blessings of God.

Carpe diem / Do it now

Housman’s poem “Loveliest of Trees” also employs the ‘carpe diem’ theme. It is a Latin phrase meaning ‘seize the day’. The speaker reminds us of the transitoriness of this life and thus urges us to do whatever we have to do in this life without wasting more time. We should not wait for tomorrow to enjoy what this beautiful life has to offer. That is why the speaker won’t wait for spring, but would start looking at the cherry trees ‘hung with snow’ in winter itself.

For another great poem with carpe diem theme, read Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress“.

Nature and its beauty

Natural beauty is a prominent theme in the poem “Loveliest of trees”. In fact, the entire poem including the title is all about the cherry trees in full bloom and how the speaker cherishes to look at them. It also suggests that happiness lies in the small things in life, and nature is the only source of pure pleasure.

Loveliest of Trees – Symbols

Spring and cherry blossoms

The cherry blossoms in springtime represent beauty, pleasure and vitality. The poet, Housman even calls the cherry trees “loveliest of trees”. Cherry flowers in early spring come after a cold winter. They are short-lived and must be enjoyed in the present moment.

Again, our speaker is also young, 20 years now, and youth is often represented as spring. As cherry blossoms exist only for a short while, youth is also short in comparison to one’s total life span. So, the speaker must not waste this prime time of his life and must explore and enjoy the beautiful aspects of life.

White

The words “wearing white” appears in the poem to describe the white cherry flowers. Additionally, it reminds us of Eastertide, a religious ceremony in which the Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. This “white” colour is connected with Christianity. It symbolizes purity, peace and freshness. The poem’s young speaker rides into the woods to look the blossoming cherry trees as they are fresh and new.

Loveliest of Trees – Literary Devices

Enjambment

Enjambment in poetry is a continuation of a sentence to the next line of verse, without pause. For example –

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

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in neighbouring words.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,

Consonance

It is the repetition of consonant sounds in nearby words.

Fifty springs are little room,

(Repetition of ‘r’ and ‘t’ sounds)

Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning or in stressed syllables of nearby words.

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And take from seventy springs a score,

Personification

Personification is the attribution of human qualities to non-human things.

Wearing white for Eastertide.

In the above line, the tree is personified as it is compared to a person wearing a white dress for the festival of Easter.

Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part is used to mean the whole or vice versa.

Fifty springs are little room

In the above line from the poem, ‘spring’ is here used to mean ‘year’. The speaker says that he has fifty more years left in his life and that is a short time. So, the name of a season is used to refer to the entire year here, and hence it is a good example of synecdoche.

Hyperbole

There is a hyperbole or exaggerated statement in the title, or for that matter, in the first line of the poem when the speaker calls the cherry trees the “loveliest of trees”.

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