A critical reading of a beautiful poem
Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) was a popular poet in her lifetime, and was admired by fellow poets Ezra Pound and Thomas Hardy, among others. Most closely aligned with the ‘Georgian poets’ who flourished in the pre-WWI years in Britain, shortly before the advent of literary modernism, Mew was a fine writer of short lyrics – poems which require little close analysis to be enjoyed, though a few words of commentary may help to point out certain linguistic and technical features. ‘I so liked Spring’ beautifully encapsulates the best of her plain, wistful style.
I so liked Spring last year
Because you were here; –
The thrushes too –
Because it was these you so liked to hear –
I so liked you.
This year’s a different thing, –
I’ll not think of you.
But I’ll like the Spring because it is simply Spring
As the thrushes do.
In summary, this is a short poem about getting over somebody you once loved and shared your life with, but the tone struck by the poem’s second stanza is poised somewhere between joyful and numb. In the first stanza, the speaker of the poem, addressing a former lover, declares that she liked spring last year because she was sharing it with someone special. In the second stanza, it is implied that this special lover has forsaken the poem’s speaker, who is determined to enjoy this spring for its own sake, not because of any romantic connotations or associations with lovers.
The speaker, in other words, will enjoy the spring just as the thrushes do, which sing their songs in springtime, suggesting – through the device of personification – that they are singing because they are happy. This is the ostensible meaning we are encouraged to take from Mew’s concluding line, but is there not also a tacit acknowledgment of something lost, too? For the thrushes do not ‘enjoy’ spring in the same way as humans can. We can appreciate the beauty of nature but part of our enjoyment of springtime is to do with associations it has for us, of new beginnings, love, and romance. (‘In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,’ as Tennyson has it in ‘Locksley Hall’.) So, although the predominant tone of Mew’s poem is sweetness, it verges on being bittersweet.
The simple rhymes – too/you/you/do, thing/Spring, and year/here/hear with the homophone of here/hear offering a neat overlapping – reinforce the simple lyricism, as does the repetition of ‘so liked’ and ‘thrushes too/thrushes do’. ‘I so liked Spring’ is the ancestor of a Stevie Smith poem like ‘Pad, pad’ – expressing lost love through a comparison with the simple life of animals, described in clear, plain language and simple rhymes.