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Parini: Spring Poetry

04/05/12 7:55AM By Jay Parini
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(Host) As spring comes to Vermont, writer, educator and commentator Jay Parini, recalls some of his favorite lines of poetry about this glorious, if sometimes challenging, season of rebirth.
(Parini) Poets have always found spring a special and inspiring, if challenging, time of year.  Consider the anonymous Middle English poem that opens:

     Summer is a-coming in,
     Loud sing, cuckoo!
     The seed grows and the mead blows,
     And woodlands spring anew.
     Loud sing, cuckoo!

There is such joy here, a sense of a nature unfolding, opening.  I hear this note as well in another of my favorite poems, "Spring," by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  It begins:

   Nothing is so beautiful as Spring -
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   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.

It's hard to beat that notion of the weeds, in wheels, shooting "long and lovely and lush."  But spring also has a slightly unnerving side, as Shakespeare noted in his famous response to the season.

   When daisies pied and violets blue
      And lady-smocks all silver-white
   And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
      Do paint the meadows with delight,
   The cuckoo then, on every tree,
   Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
   Cuckoo, cuckoo: O, word of fear,
   Unpleasing to a married ear!

Well, I've been married for more than thirty years, yet I'd like to think I can deal with the lady-smocks all silver-white.  I actually look forward to them!

Perhaps the gloomiest response to spring is found in the opening of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," where he writes:  "April is the cruelest month."

And in Vermont, mud season certainly does have its cruelties.  Once, in April, I took some visitors to see the Robert Frost house in Ripton, and we got stuck in Frost's driveway in mud so deep it took a visit from Triple A to get us back on our way.   Which brings me, of course, to Frost's "Mending Wall"  in which he says "Spring is the mischief in me."   I suspect that most seasons put the mischief into Frost, but he was particularly incited by spring.  One of his earliest poems, in fact, is called "A Prayer in Spring."  It begins:

   Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
   And give us not to think so far away
   As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
   All simply in the springing of the year.

I think we know what Frost meant by the notion of "uncertain harvest."  We can't possibly know what we'll reap in months to come.  Half the time, we don't even know what we've sewn.

But spring is also a season of resurrection - and it's no surprise that Easter falls during this strangely hopeful if precarious season.  I'll just settle back with my Hopkins, affirming once again that "Nothing is so beautiful as spring."

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