“Loveliest Of Trees, The Cherry Now…

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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 A Shropshire Lad

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The Loveliest of Trees is the second poem from the Shropshire Lad  cycle, and probably the one best known.  It is easy from today’s perspective to dismiss the apparent simplicity, sometimes ditty-like quality of these poems. But Housman was a scholar of Olympian proportions, an atheist too and, it is said, suffering in love for a man who could never love him in return. Sensibilities run deep here.

The verses speak of love and loss and going to war; the fleetingness of things; all set against landscapes seen only in the mind’s eye, or as if looking from a long way off across time and space. There are many voices too, even ghostly ones, the sense of old country airs remembered. It is not surprising that they spoke so compellingly to composers who then set many of the poems to music: George Butterworth (Bredon Hill and Other Songs), Ralph Vaughan Williams (On Wenlock Edge), Ivor Gurney (The Western Playland), Samuel Barber (With rue my heart is laden ) to name a few.

Here is Butterworth’s evocation of the cherry tree, sung with perfect poise by Roderick Williams. If you choose to listen you may imagine Shropshire here today. As I write this we are having flurries of light snow just like falling cherry blossom.

Butterworth: Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (Excerpt) – BBC Proms 2014 – YouTube

 

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26 thoughts on ““Loveliest Of Trees, The Cherry Now…

      1. We had about 3 seconds worth down here, and looks like tomorrow is going to be much warmer again. So fingers crossed

      1. I found the spam folder in the end, thanks, Jude. Now I can go back to the songs, whose grace and loveliness one surely needs after viewing the contents of the spam folder!

    1. I’ve come to think quite a lot of Housman in recent years. As a stripling reading A Shropshire Lad, I somehow heard the rhymes but missed the resonances.

      1. I was a bit of a late-comer to poetry and so although I knew of Housman (how could you not when you come from Shropshire?) I’ve tended to defer to other’s opinions about him. I’m pretty sure it’s the rhyme that does put many readers off. And rhyme is so hard to get right of course, especially when it’s very simple and direct. But the rhymes don’t jar at all (in my view) and their simplicity adds if anything. It all resonants with me in any case!

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