The flowering cherry trees are coming into bloom in my river valley this week, and tomorrow is National Arbor Day, so that means this is the perfect week to share a famous gem from A.E. Housman (1859–1936) — it’s our homeschool poem-of-the-week for the fourth week of April:
Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now
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.
This is a wonderful poem to memorize — why not give it a try with your students this week. It has a simple AABB rhyme scheme that’s easy to remember, and the meter is fairly regular iambic or trochaic tetrameter, which gives it a sprightly, lilting gait. There’s a bit of irregularity here and there — some lines have only seven syllables instead of the expected eight. And how many syllables does “Loveliest” have? Ordinary American English would give it three, but I’d venture that here it was originally meant to have two — something like “Lov-l’est.”
Great writers like Housman are very precise in their use of words, and that’s something you’ll want your students to appreciate. Send them to the family lexicon for the exact meanings of ride (noun definition #2, page 1509, “a path made for riding on horseback, especially through woodlands”) and tide (noun definition #4, page 1818, “A time or season. Often used in combination: eventide; Christmastide; Shrovetide“). Thus “woodland ride” and “Eastertide” are precise and perfect. Be sure also that your students are culturally literate readers and recognize “threescore years and ten” as the biblical allotment for a human life, from the book of Psalms: the narrator of this spring poem is twenty (“a score”), and is imagining that he has fifty more springs to go (for a total of three score and ten, or seventy).
Why not find a cherry tree in bloom about some woodland ride near you this week, and take along a copy of Housman, and have a little homeschool literature lesson that brings the tree and the words together — that will be better than any lesson you can teach in an indoor classroom. 🌸
What other wonderful words and poetical productions have you been studying in your homeschool this Leo Term? 🦁
❡ Fifty springs are little room: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of our weekly poems, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life. 😊
❡ Literary lives: The website of the Poetry Foundation includes biographical notes and examples of the work of many important poets (including A.E. Housman) that are suitable for high school students and homeschool teachers. 🖋
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Add your name to our River Houses mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) to get posts like these delivered right to your mailbox, and print your own River Houses Poetry Calendar (riverhouses.org/calendars) to follow along with us as we visit forty-eight of our favorite friends over the course of the year. 📖