An Analysis of “Loveliest of Trees,” by A.E.Housman

A.E. Housman uses the cherry blossom tree in his poem “Loveliest of Trees” as a symbol of the temporary nature of youth and beauty. This tree has a short blooming period in which its beautiful flowers present themselves in pink bundles. This is akin to the youth of a person in its brief and irretrievable nature . As Housman points out, “Twenty will not come again”(Housman, 1896). The cherry blossom tree is described as being decorated with “bloom” that hangs along its “bough,” implying a sense of intentionality in their appearance. A “bloom” is a flower that is cultivated. This word choice further implies that there is a deliberate reason behind the existence of the cherry tree. The cherry blossom tree is described to be “[standing] about the woodland ride”(Housman, 1896) . This personifies the tree and implies that the tree was not simply planted in a location against its will. Rather, it chooses to stand there. Housman creates visual imagery in mentioning the trees are standing “about the woodland ride,” almost as if they were divine beings standing guard over that path. This idea of divinity is further emphasized in the trees being clothed in “white for Eastertide.” In mentioning the trees are “wearing” white, Housman also personifies these trees to give them agency. In the Christian calendar, Easter time is represented with white: the color for purity and resurrection. It is also worth mentioning that the season that cherry blossoms bloom – Spring- is the same season that Easter falls on. The poet alludes to the Bible, which states that the average lifespan of a human in seventy years. By mentioning that the twenty years that passed will not come again, Housman structures his language in a manner that emphasizes the loss of those twenty years. Housman also gives time a physical quantity by mentioning that “fifty springs are little room”(Housman, 1896) . 

A.E. Housman rhymes every two lines of his poem “Loveliest of Trees,” making this poem a couplet. This gives the poem a neat rhyme scheme that follows an orderly pattern. Each set of rhymes has its own sound that is not repeated again. For instance, lines one and two rhyme with “now” and “bough”, a sound that is not used again to end a line. This is parallel to the idea, discussed by Housman, that time will not repeat itself again. Each pair of rhymes has a beauty that can only be enjoyed once. The next pair presents its own beauty that will not resemble the one that passed, much like the stages in life. The neat and orderly sound this rhyme scheme provides is parallel to the nature of time, which can be quantified into “scores”(Housman, 1896). The poem does not keep a consistent meter, but overall it resembles an iambic tetrameter. This means that each line has eight syllables, or four pairs of syllables. The first line of each stanza breaks this rule by having nine syllables rather than eight. By doing this, Housman intentionally breaks the meter to signify how the subject’s ride through the woods was a break from his normal course of life. 

In his poem “Loveliest of Trees,” A.E. Housman teaches that one will not have enough time to enjoy life if he/she chooses to only enjoy it at appropriate times. This is signified in the fact that “fifty springs are little room”  to enjoy the cherry blossom trees (Housman, 1896). Hence, the subject of the poem decides to go visit the tree during the unconventional season of winter when the tree is “hung with snow” (Housman, 1896). Housman teaches that one must enjoy life by putting emphasis on the fact that time will not repeat itself. He explicitly states it in the second line of the second stanza “time will not come again” (Housman, 1896). He reinforces this idea in his rhyme scheme, where no pair of rhymes is repeated. Hence both the rhyme and the age of 20 can only be enjoyed once. The cherry blossom tree can also be a metaphor for a person. One cannot only be present in his/her friend’s life when all is going well for the friend. Whether the friend is in a phase of “bloom” or “snow”, one must be present in the friend’s life. Housman points out that one does not know how much time s/he has to spend with her/his friends. Housman emphasizes in the first line that the cherry tree is now hung with its bloom, hence one can only admire its bloom in the present. Yet, the tree remains the loveliest of trees even during its dormant seasons. The tree does not lose its loveliness when it is not blossomed. In a similar way, people do not become inherently bad simply because they do bad things. Housman’s allusions to Christianity, in mentioning the biblical lifespan of a human- seventy years- and the reference to “wearing white for Eastertide” implies that he is teaching the Christian philosophy through this poem. The idea that corruption, or sin, does not make one inherently bad is one of the main Christian philosophies. The tree goes through a cycle of restoration, just as people do, in the Christian faith, though confession. 

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