This poem expresses what I suspect many people, even very committed Christians, feel on Good Friday: we should weep more than we do, we should feel more than we feel, in response to Christ’s death on the cross.
While it’s true that faith and feelings are very different and distinct from one another, Rosetti observes here the misery and doubt that comes from knowing and believing in Jesus yet feeling as though she remains unaffected by her knowledge and faith, and expresses most eloquently the desire for God to help her to believe more fervently.
Whether or not one is a Christian does not limit their ability to be affected by the pathos in this poem, nor to consider the power of the imagery with which the poet evokes that sense of lonely difference from other people that pervades it.
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon–
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
This poem is perfect for sharing just a few days before Easter, being the time of the year when it is set.
A.E Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is a relatively small volume of poetry that he self-published in 1896, containing some really lovely poetry and delightful imagery such as that we see in this poem, the second in that collection.
While the poet is young – twenty years old – and acknowledges that he probably still has fifty years ahead of him, his life expectancy is framed in terms of only fifty more opportunities in his life to see such a beautiful tree. That’s why he’s going to take every opportunity to observe the beauty around him while he can.
This brings to mind the Latin phrase made popular by the film ‘Dead Poet’s Society’: carpe diem! Sieze the day!
The poem is a great reminder to embrace the joys we find in life while we can, and to make the most of our opportunities to stop and smell the… blossoms.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
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.
That certainly lays to rest the popular misconception that Indie poets are somehow lesser than others, doesn’t it?
This poem is something of a tardis – it’s bigger on the inside. It’s not very long, but it tells a story that takes the reader from the wide-angle scenery of the landscape at night and a small boat on the water to the intimacy of a cabin in which the secretive lovers meet. It’s Romantic, but it’s really all about the stealth and secrecy that was even more typical of Victorian England than its Romanticism.
The imagery is magnificent and the storytelling is clever: the meaning is clear, even though much is left to the reader’s own imagination. This is the art of poetry: to evoke what the reader already knows, and yet to make it new at the same time.
Meeting at Night
The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!