By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
Spring is a fine season – perhaps the most popular of the four seasons, when it comes to poets and their seasonal choice of subject. Winter has its devotees, but there’s something to be said for spring with its new life, warmer weather, and flowers and trees coming into leaf. Here are ten of our favourite poems about spring, which we reckon are among the finest spring poems in the English language.
William Wordsworth, ‘Lines Written in Early Spring‘.
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 Romantic poets often wrote about spring, and Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’, whilst not his best-known poem, is a fine example of Romantic poetry about the season. Once more, Wordsworth’s enjoyment of spring is tinged somewhat by an inner sadness, especially when he reflects on ‘what man has made of man’. Quite. Follow the link above to read the full poem and learn more about it.
William Blake, ‘Spring‘.
Sound the flute!
Now it’s mute!
Day and night,
In the dale,
Lark in sky,—
Merrily merrily, to welcome in the year…
First published in Blake’s Songs of Innocence in 1789, ‘Spring’ has the ring of a medieval song about it. The poem celebrates the joy of spring through focusing on some of Blake’s favourite aspects of the season. Everything is in communion with everything else in ‘Spring’: the sound of the flute with the song of the nightingale, the little girl and the little cockerel that both ‘crow’, and the ‘kiss’ that seals the child to the lamb. The human world and the rest of nature are in harmony.
A. E. Housman, ‘Loveliest of trees, the cherry now‘.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow…
The second poem from Housman’s bestselling 1896 volume A Shropshire Lad (a self-published debut that went on to become a sensation), ‘Loveliest of trees’ has many of Housman’s trademark touches: formal metre and rhyme, and a sense of melancholy. The speaker of the poem, at twenty years of age, reflects that he has seen twenty springs come and go, and will probably only see fifty more. So, best make the most of it. Quite right, too. Follow the link above to read the full poem and learn more about it.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘Spring‘.
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings 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…
The poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) wrote many sonnets, including ‘The Windhover’ and ‘God’s Grandeur’. ‘Spring’ is not as widely known as those, which is a shame – it’s a powerful evocation of the beauty of spring. It is that season, Hopkins reminds us, ‘When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush’. (Few poets could use assonance and alliteration as vibrantly as Hopkins.)
Emily Dickinson, ‘A Light Exists in Spring‘.
A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period –
When March is scarcely here
A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels…
Written in around 1864 but not published until 1896 (as with many of Dickinson’s poems), ‘A Light Exists in Spring’ beautifully captures the way that spring slowly appears in our consciousness, like a light in the distance. The final stanza of Dickinson’s poem also seems to acknowledge what we now call ‘SAD’ or Seasonal Affective Disorder, with the passing of spring affecting our contentedness. Follow the link above to read the full poem and learn more about it.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Canto CXV from In Memoriam.
Now dance the lights on lawn and lea,
The flocks are whiter down the vale,
And milkier every milky sail
On winding stream or distant sea;
Where now the seamew pipes, or dives
In yonder greening gleam, and fly
The happy birds, that change their sky
To build and brood; that live their lives
From land to land…
This canto from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s long elegy In Memoriam A. H. H. (1850) – written in memory of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam who died young – offers a more bittersweet take on the arrival of spring.
What grows in the speaker’s breast as spring comes into blossom is regret – regret that his dear friend is gone, that spring is a reminder that the world continues to turn and life carries on, but Tennyson’s friend does not return. One of the best poems in a great long poetic sequence. Follow the link above to read the poem in full.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 98.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him…
One of the sonnets addressed to the ‘Fair Youth’, this poem sees Shakespeare bemoaning the fact that he could not appreciate all the beauty of spring around him because he was absent from the young man. As a consequence, spring seemed like a winter to him. This is not as famous as, say, Sonnet 18 (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’), which is a shame – it’s a wonderful evocation of spring, and, as with Tennyson, it’s a bittersweet poem about the season. Follow the link above to read the full poem and learn more about it.
Christina Rossetti, ‘Spring‘.
There is no time like Spring,
When life’s alive in everything,
Before new nestlings sing,
Before cleft swallows speed their journey back
Along the trackless track –
God guides their wing,
He spreads their table that they nothing lack, –
Before the daisy grows a common flower
Before the sun has power
To scorch the world up in his noontide hour…
This poem describes the way life begins all over again in the spring, and does so through the use of some beautifully vivid images. As with much of Rossetti’s poetry, however, death is never far behind – as with Dickinson’s poem above, there is a melancholy sense of the transient beauty of spring. You can learn more about Rossetti’s life and work here. See the link above to read Rossetti’s poem in full.
Philip Larkin, ‘The Trees‘.
This first appeared in Larkin’s final volume, High Windows, in 1974. As well as his trenchantly sardonic poems about aspects of modern life, Larkin was also a great nature poet, and ‘The Trees’ is a fine brief lyric about the cycle of the seasons but also the sense that each spring is not just a rebirth, but also (shades of Rossetti and Dickinson again here) a reminder of death. The trees’ age is ‘written down in rings of grain’, after all. We have more great Larkin poems here.
Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘The General Prologue‘ to The Canterbury Tales.
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages…
Okay, well here we haven’t got in mind the whole prologue – joyous and masterly as it is. But Geoffrey Chaucer‘s majestic description of April (complete with its famous showers) is among the most celebrated descriptions of springtime in all English poetry, and it rings as true now as it did over 600 years ago when he wrote it. Follow the link above to read Chaucer’s opening section to his General Prologue in full.
If you’re looking for more great poems, the best anthology of English poetry out there, in our opinion is the superb The Oxford Book of English Verse, edited by Christopher Ricks.
What would you say are the best poems about springtime? Have we missed any classics off this list? Check out our poems for March, or step into warmer weather with our selection of classic poems about summer, or our pick of poems about the English countryside. Or enter the colder world of winter with our pick of the greatest Christmas poems.
The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University. He is the author of, among others, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History and The Great War, The Waste Land and the Modernist Long Poem.