By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
This is the third entry in our poetry calendar: you can read our poetry recommendations for January and our pick of the best February poems in previous posts. Now, it’s the turn of March, which heralds the arrival, or return, of spring. What are the best March poems in the English language? Here are five of our favourites.
John Clare, ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar: March’.
The underrated nature poet John Clare (1793-1864) wrote an entire sequence of poems about nature and the English countryside at particular times of the year.
In the March entry in his ‘Shepherd’s Calendar’, he salutes the way ‘March month of “many weathers” wildly comes / In hail and snow and rain and threatning hums / And floods’ and ‘love teazd maidens from their droning wheel / At the red hour of sunset sliving steal / From scolding dames to meet their swains agen / Tho water checks their visits oer the plain…’
Emily Dickinson, ‘Dear March – Come In’.
This is not one of Emily Dickinson’s best-known poems, but it is a fine poem about the month of March: ‘Dear March – Come in – / How glad I am – / I hoped for you before – / Put down your Hat – / You must have walked – / How out of Breath you are – / Dear March, how are you, and the Rest – / Did you leave Nature well – / Oh March, Come right upstairs with me – / I have so much to tell…’
Algernon Charles Swinburne, ‘March: An Ode’.
‘Ere frost-flower and snow-blossom faded and fell, and the splendour of winter had passed out of sight, / The ways of the woodlands were fairer and stranger than dreams that fulfil us in sleep with delight’: so begins this poem from one of the naughtier and more subversive Victorian poets.
In ‘March: An Ode’, Swinburne (1837-1909) pays tribute to ‘March, master of winds, bright minstrel and marshal of storms that enkindle the season they smite…’
Thomas Hardy, ‘Beeny Cliff’.
This poem belongs to the ‘Poems of 1912-13’ which Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) wrote in the wake of the death of his first wife, Emma. Although he and Emma had been estranged for many years when she died, her death provoked Hardy to revisit his memories of their life together and to pen some of the finest poems about loss and longing in the English language.
‘Beeny Cliff’, which sees Hardy recalling a ‘clear-sunned March day’ when he and Emma were young and Emma laughed as she rode her horse along the cliff. Unlike some of the other poems on this list, ‘Beeny Cliff’ offers us not March as a month of hope and joy, but a March of contemplation and sorrow.
A. E. Housman, ‘March’.
Although spring and the month of March are often associated with hope and a new start, some of the greatest poems about March are tinged with past sorrow. And sorrow was for A. E. Housman (1859-1936) what daffodils were for Wordsworth (to borrow from, and adapt, Philip Larkin).
In this poem from Housman’s perennially popular 1896 debut volume A Shropshire Lad, the poet (or the ‘lad’) is slightly more upbeat than usual, and hopes (against hope, perhaps) that he will find love as spring comes into view again: ‘In farm and field through all the shire / The eye beholds the heart’s desire; / Ah, let not only mine be vain, / For lovers should be loved again.’
If you enjoyed this selection of the best poems for March, you might also like our selection of great spring poems.