A.E. Housman: Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now


Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now


By A.E. Housman


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 three score 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.



Of course, this poem contains a math problem.

The Bible gives the average life span of a human as three score years and ten. That’s seventy years.

Take away from that number twenty springs, aka years.

That leaves 50 years.

A lot of you college students are 20 years old, or so, and you probably think that fifty years is a long time.

It’s not.

Actor Tony Curtis talked in an interview about his years in Hollywood.

He said that at age 20 he went to Hollywood and jumped into a swimming pool, swam to the other end, and when he got out of the pool, he was 70 years old.

That’s how fast his life seemed to go by.

If the narrator of the poem were my age instead of age 20, he would be writing this:

Now, of my three score years and ten,

Sixty-eight will not come again,

And take from seventy springs sixty-eight,

It only leaves me two more.

Two more is not very many. With modern medicine, I may have 15 more years, but that will go by quickly.

You can find sites online that will use actuarial tables to predict the day when the average person born when you were born will die.

For me, that’s 24 April 2028 — six years from now.

Hardly any time.

My advice to everyone here who is around 20 or any other age is to try to have very few zero-days in what remains of your life.

A zero-day is a day in which you accomplish nothing and have no fun.

All of you probably know someone who watches TV 10 hours a day, day after day after day.

Such people are not interested in actually living their life.

Carpe diem, everyone: Seize the day.

Note: I don’t regard a memento mori (reminder of death) as morbid. To me, it’s a reminder that I’ve got stuff to do before I die so I had better get a move on.

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