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A poem for the first day of Spring

20 March 2018

To celebrate the first day of Spring, John Lee reads 'A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of trees, the cherry now' by A. E. Housman.

To mark the first day of Spring, Dr John Lee, Senior Lecturer in English, reads A. E. Housman's 'A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of trees, the cherry now'.

Of his choice of poem, John Lee said:

Housman’s poem about cherry trees blooming was published in A Shropshire Lad in 1896. Many readers have found it immediately memorable. Some of its charm derives from the rather mysterious way that cherry trees flower before they have leaves. (They are, to use the technical term, ‘hysteranthous’.)  If this were not the case, they could not precisely be said to wear white; and their being able to wear white, with its implications of marriage and new generations, chimes in nicely with the description of the season as Eastertide, a naming which invokes the miraculous resurrection of Jesus, in Christian tradition. Those mysterious and miraculous renewals are salted by the speaker’s own clear sense of mortality. He is an onlooker, twenty years old, and so, he presumes, only has another fifty years of observation; and after those seventy years, there may be no more new beginnings to be observed or, perhaps, experienced – in his personal life Housman declared himself a ‘High-Church atheist’. Critics of Housman have decried his poems’ simplicity, and have seen it as the companion of a childish pessimism. His defenders have pointed to a complexity of presentation, noting the gaiety with which dark matters are presented in the poems.  Such curious mixes of life and death are found in many of the best poems of Spring, and whichever side one takes in the battle of the critics, there is in ‘Loveliest of Trees’ a captivating musicality which plays with and against both the felt shortness of human life and the seasonal recurrence of Nature.

Dr John Lee is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English. His main areas of research interest are Shakespeare, English Renaissance Literature, Literature and Medicine and Rudyard Kipling. His publications include, Edmund Spenser's Shorter Poems: A Selection (London: Everyman, 1998) and Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' and the Controversies of Self (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000).

Further information

This reading is part of the Commemorative Poem Initiative run by the Bristol Poetry Institute.

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