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Apr 2014
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Appreciating the Life and Works of Alfred Edward Housman
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Loveliest of trees

A Shropshire Lad

      II           
 
Loveliest of trees, the cherry nowCQ
VIs hung with bloom along the bough,
VAnd stands about the woodland rideQ
VWearing white for Eastertide.CQ
 
VNow, of my threescore years and ten,5 CQ
VTwenty will not come again,Q
VAnd take from seventy springs a score,Q
VIt only leaves me fifty more.
 
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,10
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.CQ
Key: V: Textual Variation. C: Commentary. Q: Question. Glossary


ASL II "Loveliest of trees"

Top ▲ Glossary
Line   Word Glossary
2 Bough The main branch of a tree
3 Ride A path broad enough to ride a horse along, usually through a wood
4 Eastertide The religious season of Easter
5 Threescore     Sixty (a score being twenty)


Top ▲ Commentary
Line Commentary
Date: May-July 1895
1 A cherry tree that was famous locally grew in the garden of Perry Hall (the Housman family home where AEH lived until his mother's death when he was 12, at which time the family moved to the Clock House in the nearby village of Fockbury).
4 In the Church of England, White is the Liturgical Colourfor the festal periods including that from Easter Day to the Eve of Pentecost as well as specific festivals in the church as well as specific services including Marriages Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination, It may be used in preference to purple or black for Funerals, and should be used at the Funeral of a child.
5 "Threescore and ten" is a biblical reference to the life-span that a human being might expect to enjoy:

"The days of our years are threescore years and ten;and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away."Psalm 90, v.10

12 Both Cherry blossom and snow only last a short time in the English climate; as such both might be seen as symbols of the brief life-span of man which pre-occupies the speaker in this and many other poems in the collection.
Meter     Four line stanzas of mostly eight syllable iambic lines, rhymed as couplets. However, the inverted rhythm of the first word, Love-li-est, offers a hesitation or contemplation as the poem begins.


Top ▲ Variations
Line Text Textual variation
2   along the bough] under the bough,
3   about the woodland ride]

i) along the woodlands wide
ii) along the woodlands side

4   white] snow
5 d1/d3     Now, of my] And since, of
5-6 d2 And since my days, the days of men, | Are but threescore years and ten,
7-8     d3 i) And yet of all the springs in store
ii) And so of all the springs in store | I shall see but fifty more


Top ▲ Questions
Line Question
1 What is it about the cherry tree in particular that makes it "Loveliest" in the opinion of the speaker of the poem?
3 Why is it important that the tree stands "about the woodland ride", rather than just in woodland?
4 White is the liturgical colour for Easter and would be worn by the clergy in services. With what else is the colour associated?
5 -6 Consider the earlier draft form of the second stanza and the beginning of the third:

And since my days, the days of men,
Are but threescore years and ten,
And so of all the springs in store
I shall see but fifty more

And since to look at things you love
Fifty times is not enough...

In what ways do you think the final version is better than this earlier version?

6 The voice of the poem, aged twenty, is concerned that he may only have another fifty years of life. What does this suggest to you about the character of the persona that Housman has created?
7 Why do you think Housman uses the particular word "springs" to refer to years?
12 While it is not unknown for there to be snow at Easter in England, it would certainly be unusual. If we are to understand the "snow" of the final line to refer to the cherry blossom, why do you think Housman has chosen this particular metaphor to describe it?