May 21, 2009
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 wish I had had this little poem handy when I turned 25. That was the only time in my life that I really felt old. The phrase “quarter century” echoed in my mind and kept me more or less depressed for weeks.
Worse, I felt self-conscious about feeling bad. When I thought about it, I knew that twenty-five is not old, damn it, by any definition. Yet I felt ancient, and I felt stupid about feeling ancient. It was a losing proposition from every angle.
In 12 short lines, Housman seems to capture a similar phenomenon without self-consciousness as the “I” in the poem realizes he has “only” 50 of the biblical three score and ten left to live. There I was at 25, with “only” 45 left!
If the three score and ten is accurate, as of next month I’ll have only seven left; yet I feel younger than I did at 25.