Spring Feeling

Michelle Wray looks at seasonal spring poetry as 2012 Marches on.

Today I begin to understand why poets write about spring and why associations with spring are symbols of joy, birth and starting afresh. I’m sitting on a stone wall by Palace Green with the beautiful and ancient Cathedral and Castle either side of me. Flowers are unfolding in vibrant colours and if you look closely you can see the first blossom on trees. The birds have been singing all morning, there is a crowd of students playing Frisbee nearby and people in the streets have shed their coats. I can feel a change in the atmosphere of Durham, and it’s all down to spring.

I think spring is inherently social. People are talking and laughing in clusters outside. There is a student or three perched on every wall possible, lounging on benches or basking in the sun. Spring wakes us up. Poets throughout the ages have tried to understand and capture how spring makes us feel, but writing a poem that plucks the essence of spring from the fresh air is difficult. It’s hard to describe the gentle joy of sitting and watching the changes spring brings, or walking past banks of new flowers after months of bare winter.

E. E. Cummings’ interesting poem Spring is like a perhaps hand couldn’t be more different to the oft-quoted poem Daffodils by William Wordsworth (“I wander’d lonely as a cloud”). It’s sparse descriptions dwell on the evasiveness of spring and though devoid of Wordsworth’s flowery embellishments, the last line in particular embodies the gentle hand of the season.

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere) arranging
a window, into which people look (while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here) and
changing everything carefully
spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things, while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there) and
without breaking anything.

Another poem which reconsiders traditional views of this time of year is D. H. Lawrence’s Craving for Spring with its preoccupation with corruption and mortification, mixed with a desire for the life force of spring to be realised. The work’s irregular verse structure and lack of any overarching rhyme scheme jar with the cyclical way in spring – the season of hope –rolls around each year. As Lawrence perversely “trample[s] on the snowdrops”, his Craving for Spring has more in common with Wordsworth’s autumnal poem Nutting, in which Wordsworth’s over-zealous persona finds himself “merciless[ly] ravag[ing]” the hazelnut trees.

In fact, Wordsworth seems to be one constantly troubled by his relationship with “Nature’s holy plan”, as demonstrated by his melancholy Lines written in Early Spring. Whilst this work does capture the relaxing feel of spring,

Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ‘tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopped and played:
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made,
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

However, this poem simultaneously laments, “What man has made of man” suggesting discord between mankind and nature, and the poem does not end on the harmonious “thousand blended notes” on which it begins.

Hopkins’ poem, entitled Spring describes the new season with unique language. The poem’s religious preoccupation also sets the beauty of spring in the context of the Biblical Garden of Eden. This unusual poem makes us pay attention to each and every word, and, might I add, probably my favourite spring poem.

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Today, as I smelt blossom in the air for the first time this year, I really began to understand the draws of spring. This season doesn’t just change the landscape of nature, it also changes us. Problems lose their tenacious grip in the light of the sun and the sight of budding leaves. Instead of rushing around, spring calls us to stop and look at the view. I’m definitely looking forward to more warm weather, but during the April showers that are bound to come, let’s relive spring through poetry too.

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