Thursday, April 30, 2009


Forth I Wander, Forth I Must

A.E. Housman, More Poems, IX:
When green buds hang in the elm like dust
  And sprinkle the lime like rain,
Forth I wander, forth I must,
  And drink of life again.
Forth I must by hedgerow bowers
  To look at the leaves uncurled,
And stand in the fields where cuckoo-flowers
  Are lying about the world.
Phenology is "the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena," and from a phenological viewpoint, this poem fits this day, April 30. Archie Burnett, in his edition of Housman's poems, p. 431, points out that Housman, in his diary for April 30, 1891, wrote: "Lime just beginning to leaf, green buds on elm (bole)." Burnett dates the poem "Apr./May 1895."

The poet Thomas Gray, in a letter to Thomas Wharton (Pembroke, August 5, 1763), puts "lime-tree in leaf" earlier, on April 9 of that year, with "Dutch elm opens its leaf" on April 2, and "elm, willow, and ash in flower" on April 20. Housman's "cuckoo-flower" is a type of wallflower, and Gray in his letter gives April 15 as the date when "double wall-flower blows."

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