Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Background
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.
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.
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
Warm Up to Winter
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
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 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:
Several tetrameter lines in
the poem place stress on the first syllable and thus are in trochaic tetrameter.
Line 4 is an example.
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:
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
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
Text and Notes
Loveliest of trees the cherry
Is hung with bloom along
And stands about the woodland
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now of my three
score years and ten,2
twenty will not come again.
And take from seventy years
It only leaves me fifty
And since to look at things
Fifty Springs is little
About the woodlands I will
To see the cherry hung with
ride: The speaker is in a carriage or on horseback.
. . . 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..
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.)
are examples of figures of speech in the poem.
along the bough
ride / Wearing white
and ten, / twenty
at things in bloom
I will go
the cherry hung with snow
Springs is little room
Lines 1, 2, 4: The
cherry . . . is . . . wearing white for Eastertide.
Questions and Writing Topics
of the tree to a person who has chosen to wear white for the Easter season
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
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.