Loveliest of Trees: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:00 A.E. Housman's…
  • 1:01 Analyzing 'Loveliest of Trees'
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You probably have your own opinion as to which is the 'Loveliest of Trees,' but find out why A.E. Housman happens to think it's the cherry tree. Learn about his poem as well as its time-sensitive message.

A.E. Housman's 'Loveliest of Trees'

'Loveliest of Trees' was written by Alfred Edward Housman, an English scholar and poet who lived from 1859-1936. Often known by the first of its only twelve lines, Housman's 'Loveliest of Trees' is a quick read, but maybe a bit difficult to understand fully. To see how we might be talking about a little more than just a simple cherry tree, let's look at the poem in full.

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.

Analyzing 'Loveliest of Trees'

'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,' 'I'm not getting any younger,' 'Y.O.L.O.' Chances are you've heard one or more of these phrases in your lifetime. But what do they all mean? The common thread tying these expressions together is basically that life is short and time keeps steadily going by, whether we take advantage of it or not. This very same point is addressed in Housman's 'Loveliest of Trees,' but he doesn't just point out the problem, he also offers a solution.

The first and most important part of that solution is actually hinted at almost immediately in the poem's first line: 'Loveliest of trees, the cherry now…' Any word ending a line of poetry can have special attention drawn to it due to its position, and we can tell that 'now' is of particular interest to the poetic narrator. Not only is 'now' when the cherry trees are blooming, but the present is the only time actually available to the narrator, and this understanding is likewise for us the first step on the road to taking full advantage of the time we have.

Any kid from the '90s can probably remember at least some of the lyrics to Steve Miller Band's 'Fly Like an Eagle.' Most especially, 'Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'…into the future.' Although in seemingly much more complicated mathematical terms, that's exactly what the second stanza of Housman's poem is talking about. The argument here is that, even if the narrator were able to get back twenty years, which he's certainly not, it would, at best, only leave him with fifty more springs to enjoy the cherry blossoms.

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