William Cowper

Start Free Trial

In "The Poplar Field," what is the significance of the lines "Short-lived as we are, our enjoyments, I see, / Have a still shorter date, and die sooner than we"?

Quick answer:

The significance of the last two lines in "The Poplar Field" lies in their reminder that even enjoyments and pleasures pass away, usually before the people who enjoy them die. The world is always changing, and pleasures do not last.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In William Cowper's poem “The Poplar Field,” the speaker mourns the loss of the poplars that he once enjoyed for shade and ease. Twelve years have passed since he saw those trees and sat beneath them, but now he sees that they are lying on the grass, and he can sit on the tree he used to sit under. The birds no longer sing in the trees either. They have flown away to new groves. The speaker sees only desolation.

The desolation of the poplar field leads the speaker into further reflections about mortality. He thinks about how his years are “all hasting away,” and soon he will “lie as lowly” as the dead trees, “with a turf on my breast and a stone at my head,” namely, in his grave. Such a thing will happen before a new poplar grove will grow up.

In the final stanza, the speaker continues to meditate on the passing of life and of human pleasures. People are frail, and their enjoyments are frail as well. In fact, people's pleasures pass more quickly than the people themselves. These enjoyments die, for people's attention shifts, or they develop new pleasures, or as in the case of the poplar field, their pleasures are taken from them. Human beings cannot count on anything of this world to last. Things change all the time, including enjoyable things, and this is something that people simply must accept.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial