Irish poet Thomas Moore wrote the poem “The Last Rose of Summer” in 1805 and set it to the old Irish tune “The Young Man’s Dream.”
Composers Ludwig van Beethoven, Benjamin Britten, Mikhail Glinka, Paul Hindemith, Charles Gounod and Felix Mendelssohn all wrote arrangements of this song. In popular culture, there are familiar versions by Bing Crosby, Sarah Brightman, Charlotte Church, The Three Tenors and even The Grateful Dead.
The song is featured in movies such as “Gaslight” and “The Great Caruso,” and in television shows as varied as “I Love Lucy” and “The Walking Dead.”
So what is so special about this poem and tune?
The song is a reflection on friendship, on the endings of eras, looking back upon life’s fulfilling journey:
'Tis the last rose of summer, left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred, no rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes, and 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?
So here we are, the last full week of summer vacation for area students. By the time you see this, we teachers will already be back at the schoolhouse getting ready for another term.
It amazes me how the world views our profession. “Must be nice to get paid for three months off,” people say. Honestly, I cannot remember, nor do I know a teacher who has had, three months off for anything. Our summers are often filled with professional development and classroom preparation. We have a precious eight-week gap between graduation and the first day for teachers.
Even the students don’t get three months off.
During these eight weeks, all of us try to cram as much living as we can into the short time we’ve got. Vacation Bible School, summer camps, the beach, mission trips, retreats, you name it. If you follow social media, you’ve likely seen your friends traveling the world this summer, even if it’s just up the road to the lake.
Every year, I remember this old tune when I think of those friendships that might have decayed since the last school year. In reality, the poem and song are about being the last of a friendship circle to still survive.
The lilting melody of the Irish tune certainly lends an air of melancholy to the already wistful words. However, as we return to school in the next few days, my hope is we can all remember fondly the year just past, even the last rose of summer, as we joyfully renew our acquaintances and begin once again.
Michael Bird is a choral director for Tallassee City Schools.