I’m gonna start right off and say, Gentle Reader, if you have an opinion on this hymn, please share it. If you use this hymn…ever, tell me when and how. If you feel a connection to the lyric, or in general the poetry of AE Houseman, please describe it.
Because hooo-boy, I don’t get this one. I mean, I get what Houseman is saying: I’m 70, I won’t be a child again, 50 adult years haven’t been long enough, wah wah wah, gather ye rosebuds or some such inanity. And yes, I am a fan of storytelling, finding universality in particularity, the living human document as a way to understanding. But frankly, I found myself (a) wondering whether this was really an Easter hymn, (b) wondering why we would ever sing this, and (c) doing the math.
Now I love the tune – Orientis Partibus is a gorgeous little medieval French melody used in countless hymns. These lyrics, though…
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 sev’nty springs a score,
leaving me just fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
fifty springs are little room,
about the woodlands I will go,
seeing the cherry hung with snow.
Anyone have a more helpful insight than mine? Because unless I am preaching to just a group of 70 year olds in the late spring, and I want them to feel (a) old and (b) superior, I don’t get this. Not one bit.