Poetry: Moore – ‘Tis the Last Rose of Summer

‘Tis the last rose of Summer,
   Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
   Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
   No rose-bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes
  Or give sigh for sigh!

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one,
   To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
   Go sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
   Thy leaves o’er the bed
Where thy mates of the garden
   Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
   When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
   The gems drop away!
When true hearts lie withered,
   And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
   This bleak world alone?

I find it somewhat amusing that I thought about writing about this poem as summer is about to come to a start, not an end. I was actually looking for a different poem when I was reminded of this one. Perhaps it is the season of life I am in? I especially love poetry about life, its cycles and its seasons, about nature and the passing of time, and about friendships and their parting. But I feel these themes more strongly in this season of life I am in. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to this poem today.
I sang this poem a number of years ago in college. It was one of my favorites that I did, though my voice probably would have been better suited for it about a year later. I tend to be drawn to poems that mention roses (can you guess why?) and this one was no different. And something about the melancholy, no, reflective tone of the poem won my heart. I sang it as one who definitionally knew the poem’s meaning but had not quite experienced all of its emotions firsthand. I loved this poem.
And I still love the poem. This poem is about a rose that Moore has observed, but in the rose, he sees something regarding himself and the whole of human experience. Like so many great works of literature, this is a timeless poem that still meets the heart today. I think each person understands loneliness and loss, either in life or in a season of life. And as with people, Moore also sees that there is still something of joy left in her bloom and sorrow that longs to be comforted. Moore sees this poor, lonely rose and stays with her.
Yet, I see something in this poem that I did not see when I first sang it. Moore doesn’t leave the poor rose to endure loneliness for a time but scatters her leaves upon their bed where the others have already gone. In the next verse, Moore explains why he has done this. He feels empathy for the rose, so beautiful and alone in the world. Like that rose, he too may follow when others he knows in life with are gone. Like the dew off her petals, the gems of love in life slowly drop to the ground. When the hearts he loved cease and their spirits have flown to heaven, how could he live alone? And thus, in an act of perceived mercy, he ends the season of the rose before she has time to see what lies ahead.
I saw the sadness for the rose before, but I didn’t see the tragic ending. I never would have conceived of such an ending. But now I can imagine it, and I reject Moore’s premise. Yes, this world can be lonely and dark. But seasons come and go, as do the rose’s blooms every year. Though those blooms lie dead, they will resurrect themselves next spring. And so too with us. Our friends come and go, and we live in seasons of decay and rejuvenation. Just as in life we slowly drop off like beads of dew to the dust, so too will we rise again in new life.
But I understand the bleakness now as I didn’t before. I understand despair, the emptiness of life and friendship. I can see how it would seem a mercy to cease its habitation. But I also now know hope from the other side. And hope not just in the life to come but also here, here with new friends and family and joys and loves. On this side, renewing life in this new season of life’s spring, there are those to reflect our joys and “give sigh for sigh!” There is life here, even as the old season of us has died. In the waiting and holding out in this bleak world, we find that we have hope and that we are not alone.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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