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A Short Analysis of Christina Rossetti’s ‘Spring’

The meaning of Rossetti’s bittersweet spring poem

‘Spring’ is not one of Christina Rossetti’s best-known poems, but it is a fine poem about springtime. Rossetti (1830-94) celebrates the new life that the spring brings, as all of the ‘hidden life’ beneath the earth ‘springs’ into action, bursting forth upon the scene. Here is ‘Spring’:

Spring

Frost-locked all the winter,
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
What shall make their sap ascend
That they may put forth shoots?
Tips of tender green,
Leaf, or blade, or sheath;
Telling of the hidden life
That breaks forth underneath,
Life nursed in its grave by Death.

Blows the thaw-wind pleasantly,
Drips the soaking rain,
By fits looks down the waking sun:
Young grass springs on the plain;
Young leaves clothe early hedgerow trees;
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
Swollen with sap put forth their shoots;
Curled-headed ferns sprout in the lane;
Birds sing and pair again.

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.

There is no time like Spring,
Like Spring that passes by;
There is no life like Spring-life born to die, –
Piercing the sod,
Clothing the uncouth clod,
Hatched in the nest,
Fledged on the windy bough,
Strong on the wing:
There is no time like Spring that passes by,
Now newly born, and now
Hastening to die.

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, and there is a melancholy sense of the transient beauty of spring. As soon as the new life of springtime is ‘newly born’, it is already ‘now / Hastening to die’. Rossetti, who elsewhere wrote so well about winter, here imbues spring with a bittersweet sense of its own transience: to borrow from and adapt Percy Shelley, if spring is here, can autumn be far behind? Such is the cycle of nature: ‘Life nursed in its grave by Death.’

‘Spring’ is also a fine example of Rossetti’s use of repetition, with the same words and images circling round, returning to the poem again and again, as if enacting the very cycle of nature which is encoded within its subject-matter. Her most famous poem, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, is another prime instance of this technique. Note here how ‘Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits’ return, as does an emphasis on things being ‘young’ and ‘clothed’. And, of course, ‘There is no time like Spring.’

Like William Blake’s wonderful celebration of springtime, there is something joyously song-like about Rossetti’s poem, an effect that is helped by her emphasis on trochaic substitutions (‘Piercing the sod, / Clothing the uncouth clod’: many traditional songs utilise the trochaic metre), but also, of course, by the repetition mentioned above.

For more classic spring poetry, see our discussion of this wonderful medieval poem celebrating the arrival of spring and Wordsworth’s glorious lines about the coming of spring.

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Posted on February 13, 2018, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Rossetti has such an observant and detail-oriented style. Loved this post!

  2. Wonderful poem and analysis. Thank you. I waited though for you to comment on her use of questioning – as she did in In the Bleak Mid-Winter (“What can I give Him poor as I am?” and above “What shall make their sap ascend That they may put forth shoots?”) It’s a spellbinding vehicle for the reader – we pause and contemplate. :)

  1. Pingback: 10 Classic Spring Poems Everyone Should Read | Interesting Literature

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