Monday, 4 July 2016

CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF LOVELIEST OF TREES, THE CHERRY NOW BY A.E. HOUSMAN


Loveliest of trees, .......... hung with snow.

1. Introduction
(i) Title: Loveliest of Tress, the Cherry Now
(ii) Poet: Alfred Edward Housman (1859 - 1936)
(iii) Date of Composition: 1896
(iv) Collection: The Shropshire Lad
(v) Poetic Genre: Lyric poem
(vi) Speaker: A young guy on the cusp of adulthood
(vii) Setting: Rural environs of Shropshire, England in spring
(viii) Content: Nature is very beautiful but human life is too short to enjoy it completely.
2. Lines 1-2
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
     In these lines the speaker says that the most beautiful and attractive tree is the "cherry tree". The word "now" suggests that there is no time like the present. The present is the only time actually available for the speaker, and this understanding is likewise for us the first step on the road to taking full advantage of the time we have. Thus the cherry tree represents good fortune, which will soon disappear. Then the speaker imagines the blooms hanging along the branches of the tree, almost as if they are ornaments on a Christmas tree. The words "loveliest" and "bloom" are associated with spring which is a short-lived season. In short, good fortune is beautiful and plentiful when we have it. 
3. Lines 3-4
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide,
     These lines describe the location and appearance of the cherry tree. The word "ride" can refer both to a ride on horseback that the speaker is taking, or it can just be a noun describing the path he is on. Either way, the cherry tree is "standing" along the ride. The cherry is "wearing white" is a case of personification. "Eastertide" is a word used in the Christian calendar to describe the time that includes Easter Sunday and the seven weeks right after it. It is also a reference to Jesus Christ. In Christianity, Jesus was crucified by the Romans around 33 C.E. and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Thus it also reiterates the idea of rebirth. 
4. Lines 5-6
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
     After a stanza describing the tree itself, the speaker shifts to a more reflective mood here. He says that he has threescore years and ten, and twenty will never come again. A "score" is just an old-fashioned way of saying 20. This means that "threescore" is just three times 20 i.e. 60. Now, if we add "ten" to "threescore". we get 70. So, the speaker imagines that he will reach the ripe old age of 70; the length of man's life according to Psalm 90:10. At present the speaker is 20 years old, and knows that past years can never return. In short, the speaker has used the larger unit of time i.e. score to show that time ticks and life moves fast like in a ride. 
5. Lines 7-8
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
     In these lines the speaker uses the same roundabout method to calculate how many years he has left of life. Assuming that the speaker will live to be 70, if he takes away the 20 years he has already lived, that means he has only got 50 years left. "Seventy spring" is like saying seventy years; spring comes once a year. The "years" phrased as "springs" is a fine example of synechdoche because the whole year has been referred by the part of it. The speaker has intentionally used the word "springs" instead of "years" to show his love for nature. Moreover, the word "springs" prepares the way for the stanza that follows and leads us into winter. 
6. Lines 9-10
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
     The speaker claims that fifty years is not enough time to enjoy the beauty of "things". He uses the word "things" instead of "trees" to open the poem to the blooming not just of the cherry tree, but of the whole world. Fifty years is just enough "room" to squeeze in all the sightseeing he wants to do. However, the speaker is not talking about sightseeing. Sure, he says "look at things in bloom", but this is a metaphor for making the most of things. Fifty years is a long time, and if the speaker has fifty years left, he really shouldn't be worried about seizing the day. In short, the speaker wants to say that the number of things he would like to do in life cannot possibly be accomplished in just fifty years.
7. Lines 11-12
About the woodland I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
     Since the speaker is committed to making the most of things, he will go about the woodlands and look at the "cherry hung with snow". This whole idea of making the most of things can be expressed in two-word Latin phrase carpe diem, which means "seize the day". The "cherry hung with snow" is a metaphor for how the trees look when they are covered with white blossoms. But why use the idea of snow when, here we are, smack dab in the middle of spring? It is as though, even in the midst of blossoming spring's rebirth and renewal -- and this re-dedication to enjoying all life has to offer -- the speaker can't shake the inevitability of death. 
8. Literary Devices
(i) Rhyme Scheme: AABB/CCDD/EEFF
(ii) Meter Check: Iambic tetrameter
(iii) Alliteration: "Bloom and bough", "woodland, wearing and white", "ten and twenty", seventy, springs, and score".
(iv) Symbols: The cherry tree (youth and beauty), blooms (life and rebirth), Eastertide (death and resurrection), snow (coldness and death)
(v) Metaphors: Springs (years), look at things in bloom (making the most of things), snow (white blossoms)
(vi) Personification: The cherry tree (wearing white for Eastertide)
(vii) Tone: Lighthearted, regretful and revitalized
(viii) Themes: Beauty of nature, nostalgia, and brevity of life
9. Conclusion
     The poem is deceptively simple. Plain diction, short lines, short stanzas, and the expression in the first person add to the lyric quality of the poem. The poem utilizes tone devices, literary devices, and poetic structure in order to formulate an awe inspiring outlook at the concept of carpe diem that causes the reader to question his or her own attitude towards the sanctity of life and time. It forces the reader to realize the fleeting nature of life, and that the true path to happiness resides in the ideal of spontaneous life, not to live in a state of constant regret and remorse. In short, the poem conveys an intimate attitude that advocates "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may"

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