A Short Analysis of Christina Rossetti’s ‘Spring’

The meaning of Rossetti’s bittersweet spring poem – analysed by Dr Oliver Tearle

‘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’:


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.

About Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (1830-94) was one of the Victorian era’s greatest and most influential poets. She was the younger sister (by two years) of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Christina Rossetti was born in London in 1830, and lived with her mother virtually all of her life. She never married. Many of her poems engage with the question of religious belief, such as ‘Good Friday’ (a poem about honest religious doubt as much as faith) and ‘Twice’, about the importance of Christian forgiveness and redemption (the poem is spoken by a fallen woman, a theme that can also be seen in ‘Goblin Market’).

Christina Rossetti composed her first poem while still a very young girl; she dictated it to her mother. It ran simply: ‘Cecilia never went to school / Without her gladiator.’ Goblin Market and Other Poems was the first collection of her poetry to be published, and it was the book that brought her to public attention. The title poem is a long narrative poem which is often taken for a children’s poem because of its fairy-tale motifs and imagery; Rossetti, however, always denied that the poem was intended for children. Several of the poems in the volume, such as ‘Remember’ and ‘When I am dead, my dearest’, were composed before she had turned twenty.

Rossetti’s influences were as diverse as the many poetic forms in which she wrote: sonnets, ballads, narrative poems, lyrics, even Christmas carols (‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ to name but the most famous). She was remarkably prolific: the Penguin edition of her Complete Poems runs to well over 1,000 pages and is a treasure-trove for the poetry-lover.

Rossetti died in 1894 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery where fellow Victorian writer George Eliot had earlier been laid to rest. She went on to influence a range of later poets, including Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ford Madox Ford, and Elizabeth Jennings. Philip Larkin was an admirer, praising her ‘steely stoicism’.

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. For more about Rossetti, check out our short and interesting introduction to her life and work.

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.


  1. 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. :)

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

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