The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A. E. Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now” consists of three four-line, essentially iambic stanzas, or quatrains, in which the poet, through his observation of the beauty of the natural world, is reminded of the brevity of his own life and resolves, henceforth, to experience life with intensity. The poem begins with an image from nature, a cherry tree in bloom, which suggests the beauty of life at its prime, and then focuses throughout on the poet’s response to it. As the poet beholds the cherry, the “Loveliest of trees,” in its springtime finery, “Wearing white for Eastertide,” he experiences a sense of oneness with the natural world and assumes, simply, that he is part of it.

The second stanza continues an elaboration of the effect of this glorious sight upon the poet. While he considers the perpetual rebirth of nature, he is reminded sharply that of his biblical “threescore years and ten,/ Twenty will not come again,” and further calculation of his mortality, following the biblical allotment, ironically confirms that he has “only” fifty years left. He becomes aware of his own transience in the midst of nature’s splendor.

The change in the poet’s perception of the natural scene, but not of the scene itself, is charted by the succeeding descriptions of the cherry tree. The second mention of the tree, in the third stanza, as one of many “things in bloom,” though a conventional representation of trees,...

(The entire section is 424 words.)