Tags

, , ,

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,
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.

A. E. Housman

I read this again tonight, listening as I was the George Butterworth orchestral suite, "A Shropshire Lad", that uses a setting of this song as thematic material for part of the work.

It's a poem I've always liked, regarding it some way as a precursor to Yeats' "The Wild Swans at Coole". It's much simpler than the Yeats yet just as profound. Even though it's on the surface a poem about the relishing the joys of spring, its tone strikes me as more autumnal focusing, as it does, on the cycle of seasons and a sense of the brevity of life. Note the use of "bloom," "white", "snow" – generating a sense of compression and rapid transformation. This all adds to its dramatic power and is probably one reason I tend to think of it – and poems like it – at this time of year.

The "Shropshire Lad" poems are a curious set. A strong sense of nostalgia and mortality that can get a bit cloying if you read too many at once. But individually they pack a powerful punch, not least for their studied restraint that was somewhat out of its time when they were published in 1896. I dip into the volume from time to time.