Sunday, March 27, 2011

Close Reading

In honor of A.E. Housman's birthday (March 26) and in honor of spring--herewith.
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.

I have used this poem many times in teaching poetry. It is an utterly charming poem, and most accessible. One of the first questions I ask is--how old is the speaker in the poem? Well, how old?

Maybe you all are too smart to be fooled, but invariably I would have students say--seventy. No, I say, look again. So then I can see them doing the math--three score year and ten, well that's 70. And they subtract 20 ("will not come again") and say--fifty.

No, close reading now. AHA--the light goes on and they answer--twenty.

Oh, such a young man is that speaker. He has enjoyed spring cherry blossoms for twenty years. It is almost ironic that the VOICE of the poem is a far older, maybe wiser, voice than twenty years might suggest. I think the speaker sounds more like someone who is three score years and ten.

Whatever age--enjoy the spring. And all the blossoms--cherry included.
Image from


Ruth said...

That is a lovely poem. I too did not read carefully enough the first time to catch the poet's real age.

(word verification is "tricky")

KGMom said...

According to the Writer's Almanac--"On this day in 1912, President Taft's wife and the wife of the ambassador from Japan planted the first of Washington D.C.'s cherry trees. The cuttings were scions from the most famous trees in Tokyo, the ones that grow along the banks of the Arakawa River. Workers took over, and thousands of cherry trees, all gifts from the Japanese government, were planted around the Tidal Basin. During the Second World War, Tokyo lost scores of cherry trees in the allied bombing raids; after the surrender, horticulturalists took cuttings from the trees in Washington and sent them back to Tokyo. Years later, some of the Washington trees died, and Tokyo sent cuttings back across the Pacific."

possumlady said...

And the tradition continues...Our lovely Cherry Blossom Festival kicked off yesterday in DC and, yes, there was a dusting of snow last night. I believe we have again sent some cuttings to Japan this year...

Nance said...

I must be getting old, honey; it's only 9:20 PM and I'm was too tired to do the math. Young whippersnapper!

Here's to Spring!

Anonymous said...

I have found myself more observant of the cherry trees this year than any other of my threescore and more. The blossoms are lovely, but I've been noticing how perfectly shaped all the trees are. Sturdy trunks, wide-reaching branches... and then there are the blossoms... AHHHHH....!

Ginnie said...

Thanks. I haven't read that poem for years and it brings back nice memories.