Spring officially arrives on Wednesday, a season that has always been seen as a symbol of rebirth and renewal, and the unquestioned darling of poets. But the three poems I've highlighted here aren't traditional songs of praise. In each of them, meditating on the spring leads the author to contemplate his doubts and fears.
In William Wordsworth's "Lines Written in Early Spring," reflecting on the season leads the poet to lament "what man has made of man." Wordsworth often celebrated the joys and pleasures of nature, and fervently believed that nature held powerful lessons for mankind. But, even in the early 19th Century, he felt that our connection to nature was withering, due in no small part to the spread of industrialization.
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that green 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.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
John Keats's gorgeous sonnet "After Dark Vapors Have Oppress'd Our Plains," seems, at first, to be a classic celebration of spring as a season of rebirth and renewal. The poem drips--to borrow one of Keats's words--with quiet but sensual imagery, before taking an extraordinarily strange and macabre turn at the end.
After dark vapors have oppress'd our plains
For a long dreary season, comes a day
Born of the gentle South, and clears away
From the sick heavens all unseemly stains.
The anxious month, relieved of its pains,
Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May;
The eyelids with the passing coolness play
Like rose leaves with the drip of Summer rains.
The calmest thoughts came round us; as of leaves
Budding--fruit ripening in stillness--Autumn suns
Smiling at eve upon the quiet sheaves--
Sweet Sappho's cheek--a smiling infant's breath--
The gradual sand that through an hour-glass runs--
A woodland rivulet--a Poet's death.
Thomas Gray couldn't help but also look on Spring with--in his words--a "sober eye." In this excerpt from his "Ode on the Spring," a poem artful enough to make one miss gnats and mosquitoes, he starts to contemplate mortality:
The insect youth are on the wing,
Eager to taste the honied spring,
And float amid the liquid noon:
Some lightly o'er the current skim,
Some show their gaily-gilded trim
Quick-glancing to the sun.
To Contemplation's sober eye
Such is the race of man:
And they that creep, and they that fly,
Shall end where they began.
Alike the busy and the gay
But flutter thro' life's little day,
In fortune's varying colours drest:
Brush'd by the hand of rough Mischance,
Or chill'd by age, their airy dance
They leave, in dust to rest.
Thankfully for Gray, a cheeky bug appears to chide the poet for his morose outlook, delivering a message to seize the day. The bug pulls no punches:
Thy joys no glitt'ring female meets,
No hive hast thou of hoarded sweets,
No painted plumage to display:
On hasty wings thy youth is flown;
Thy sun is set, thy spring is gone --
We frolic, while 'tis May.
Sage advice from a bug. May all of you find your glitt'ring mates, hoarded sweets and a reason to frolic this spring. And feel free to add your own favorite spring poems in the comments section below.