Norman Nicholson's "Rising Five" deals with an enduring problem: the difficulty of trying to stay in the present moment. In this poem, the speaker encounters a little boy who insists he's not four years old, but "rising five"—leading the speaker to reflect on how everyone is always looking forward to what comes next, rather than fully experiencing the life right in front of them. The poem's images of birth and decay remind the reader that looking too far forward means seeing only death. The poem was originally published in Nicholson's 1954 collection The Pot Geranium.
"I’m rising five,” ...
... his toffee-buckled cheeks.
He’d been alive ...
... But rising five.
Around him in ...
... swilled with green.
It was the ...
... But rising June.
... But rising soon.
The new buds ...
... away his toffee-wrappers.
We never see ...
... But rising dead.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
The Nicholson Society Newsletter — Visit the University of Lancaster's Nicholson website, with archives and resources.
A Reading of the Poem — Hear "Rising Five" read aloud by the scholar Iain McGilchrist.
A Short Biography — Read a brief overview of Nicholson's life and work.
The Norman Nicholson Society — A website by and for Norman Nicholson enthusiasts, with more information about Nicholson's life and work.
Interviews and Readings — Hear recordings of interviews with Nicholson and discussions of his poetry.
1"I’m rising five,” he said,
2“Not four,” and the little coils of hair
3Un-clicked themselves upon his head.
4His spectacles, brimful of eyes to stare
5At me and the meadow, reflected cones of light
6Above his toffee-buckled cheeks. He’d been alive
7Fifty-six months or perhaps a week more:
8 not four,
9But rising five.
10Around him in the field, the cells of spring
11Bubbled and doubled; buds unbuttoned; shoot
12And stem shook out the creases from their frills,
13And every tree was swilled with green.
14It was the season after blossoming,
15Before the forming of the fruit:
16 not May,
17But rising June.
18 And in the sky
19The dust dissected the tangential light:
20 not day,
21But rising night;
22 not now,
23But rising soon.
24The new buds push the old leaves from the bough.
25We drop our youth behind us like a boy
26Throwing away his toffee-wrappers. We never see the flower,
27But only the fruit in the flower; never the fruit,
28But only the rot in the fruit. We look for the marriage bed
29In the baby’s cradle; we look for the grave in the bed;
30 not living,
31But rising dead.