The Last Rose of Summer is a beautifully simple song in which a single, surviving flower is used as a metaphor for the sadness of being left to carry on alone after the people we care for have gone.
It was written by the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who also wrote several other internationally celebrated songs, most notably perhaps, The Minstrel Boy.
The Last Rose of Summer has remained immensely popular the world over since it was written in 1805, and has been recorded by numerous major artists including Celtic Woman, Deanna Durbin, Maureen Hegarty, Clannad and The Fureys.
The Last Rose of Summer evokes the sadness and loneliness that might be felt by a person towards the end of their lives when all of their contemporaries and friends have died.
The first verse reflects on how the rose is the only one still blooming while all around it have faded and died.
Instantly, the song conjures up a sense of isolation as the rose has no companion to reflect back its beauty or to “give sigh for sigh”.
Faced with this image of isolation, the poet imagines that the rose must be pining for the loss of its companions.
Rather than see it suffer through loneliness, he prefers to let the last remaining flower join the others which lie “scentless and dead” on the ground.
He sees this as an act of mercy: “Thus kindly I scatter thy leaves o’er the bed.”
The third verse moves away from the rose and the purpose of the imagery is revealed.
The poet projects forward to the day when like the rose, he is the last one remaining of his circle of friends and loved ones.
He has already decided that when that moment arrives, he has no desire to carry on living alone.
He says that – “when friendships decay … when true hearts lie withered and fond ones are flown” – he would rather follow the course of the final rose and be allowed to join his companions who had gone before and fallen to the ground.
The poet sees no point to a life without love and the warmth of friendship, for “who would inhabit this bleak world alone!”
Thomas Moore was regarded as one of the most important poets of the early 19th Romantic era, alongside such names as Byron and Shelley.
The Last Rose of Summer is typical of his work and shows why he was so successful. It is extremely simple yet captures beautifully the sense of sadness of being left alone towards the end of life, when contemporaries have all passed on.
The Last Rose of Summer was published in Moore’s Irish Melodies which were immensely popular in the first half of the 19th century.
The words were set to an old Irish folk tune by Moore’s collaborator, the Irish musician Sir John Stevenson. The tune he used was The Young Man’s Dream, also sometimes known as The Groves of Blarney.
The song was an instant success and remains popular today, with new versions being recorded by major artists every year.