Mar. 26, 2003

Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now

by A. E. Housman

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

Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now

Loveliest of tress, 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.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Vine (Victor) Deloria, Jr., born in Martin, South Dakota (1933). He's best known for the book Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969).

It's the birthday of Gregory Corso, born in New York City (1930). He served three years for theft in a prison in upstate New York, and discovered poetry in the prison library. After he got out, he met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in New York City; Lawrence Ferlinghetti published his first collection, Gasoline.

It's the birthday of Tennessee Williams born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi (1914). He's the author of the plays The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). It was his sister Rose he was closest to; they were rarely apart, and the family cook called them "the couple." When Tom was seven and Rose was nine, the family moved from the Mississippi Delta to a tenement apartment in St. Louis. The filth and noise of the city shocked them. Their mother forced Rose out into society, where she suffered a series of exquisite humiliations; she had a breakdown, she was institutionalized, and her parents forced her to undergo a lobotomy. He said, "I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really."

It's the birthday of Joseph Campbell, born in New York City (1904). He saw Buffalo Bill's Wild West Riders as a child and decided to learn everything there was to know about Indians. He read his way through the children's room at his local library by the time he was eleven, and started right in on reports from the Bureau of Ethnology. In college, he turned to studying Arthurian legend. He abandoned a Ph.D. dissertation and went to live in a shack, where for five years he continued to read. In 1949 he published a monumental study of mythology called The Hero With a Thousand Faces; it traced the common theme of the spiritual quest in myth. The filmmaker George Lucas said that without it, he would never have been able to write Star Wars.

It's the birthday of Robert Frost, born in San Francisco, California (1874). Although he's remembered as a New England poet, he didn't move east until he was eleven, when his father died; his mother supported the family by teaching school. He dropped out of college, married, moved to a farm in New Hampshire, and held a succession of odd jobs, writing the whole time. He estimated that his income from poetry amounted to ten dollars a year, and his family was destitute. Then it occurred to him to sell the farm and move to England, where prices were still low after the war; there, his poetry began to receive real attention. He published his first collection, A Boy's Will (1913), when he was thirty-nine; the following year, North of Boston (1914) got even better reviews.

It's the birthday of A.E. Housman, born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, England (1859). He wrote only two volumes of poetry in his lifetime: A Shropshire Lad (1896), and Last Poems (1922). He studied classics at Oxford, but finished without much distinction, and ended up with a job in the Patent Office. When he finished work every afternoon, he went to the British Museum, where he pored over Latin manuscripts. He had an uncanny gift for identifying errors in transcription, and he began to produce new editions of Latin classics, earning, over a period of years, a towering reputation in the field. As a classicist and critic, he could be merciless. He kept notebooks primed with devastating phrases to be used against those whose behavior or scholarship had displeased him. He eventually won a professorship at Cambridge. When his students and co-workers discovered he was the author of the poems in A Shropshire Lad, they couldn't believe that the reclusive, dour man they knew had written such openhearted poetry.

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