spring poems

3 posts

Spring Is Icumen In–Sing Cuccu

Yesterday we sang a joyful ditty to spring (prematurely) . Today we double down, figuring singing generates heat, so what the heck.

Yes, there’s the famous olde English round, “Sumer Is Icumen In–Cuccu!” but really, emotions run much higher when we sing invitations to spring. Summer? It can wait. Once we get there, we’ll do nothing but gripe about the heat and humidity anyway.

But spring? It’s less than two weeks away. Don’t believe me? I yield the floor to an expert. An expert grouch, that is. Even he looks happy (for him) in this paean to spring:


by Philip Larkin

On longer evenings,
Light, chill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
In the deep bare garden,
Its fresh-peeled voice
Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon —
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling,
And can understand nothing
But the unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.


Instead of “Cuccu!” this thrush sings “It will be spring soon, / It will be spring soon.” I like that in a thrush. Repetitive to the point of inexplicable giddiness, to the point where Larkin, whose childhood was boring like yours and mine, “can understand nothing / But the unusual laughter, / And starts to be happy.”

Take that thought (Larkin smiling) and sound (thrush singing) to work with you today. The “fresh-peeled voice” that astonishes brickwork will lift you like nothing else. Then you can laugh at winter’s remnants.

It will feel good, I promise. Even if it’s in public. Even if you look downright cuccu.

Spring-Inspired Poems

As has been the habit these past few years, winter has saved itself for March. Until Sunday night’s snowstorm (over a foot of snow, scorning the 4-8 inch predictions of our so-called “weathermen”), the winter was laughable, snow-wise. Cold? Yeah. But snow? Hardly enough to roll Frosty, taking him for all he’s worth.

March isn’t the most popular of months. Supposedly coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, it is the advent of mud season (bad), red-winged blackbirds (good), and St. Patrick’s Day (if you like beer, very good).

It also heralds the coming of spring (March 20th) in the northern hemisphere, giving poet Jim Harrison the right idea. He knew a sense of humor about March was essential to the season. As evidence, watch what he does at the end of this little poem:


Winter, Spring
by Jim Harrison

Winter is black and beige down here
from drought. Suddenly in March
there’s a good rain and in a couple
of weeks we are enveloped in green.
Green everywhere in the mesquites, oaks,
cottonwoods, the bowers of thick
willow bushes the warblers love
for reasons of food or the branches,
the tiny aphids they eat with relish.

Each year it is a surprise
that the world can turn green again.
It is the grandest surprise in life,
the birds coming back from the south to my open
arms, which they fly past, aiming at the feeders.


Clearly Jim wrote this about parts south of here. Note the specific nouns that matter most to a poem, in this case “mesquites,” “oaks,” “cottonwoods,” and the alliterative “willow bushes” and “warblers.” And like any hot dog, the aphids are eaten “with relish” (sorry, bad joke there).

Harrison uses a new stanza for a shift. The poem’s view pans back to a more philosophical scope. It goes from a particular March to “Each year it is a surprise…,” heaping praise on the earth’s regenerative powers, despite everything man does to it, despite the cynic’s sneaking suspicion that the cold may never let go.

Note how “the grandest surprise in life” is a phrase whose antecedent should be the world turning green but (curveball) turns out to be “the birds coming back from the south to my open / arms, which they fly past, aiming at the feeders.”

Oh, those selfish little birds. Guilty of gluttony, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But anyone who has fed birds can appreciate the gentle joke here. The cliché, “she eats like a bird” to denote she hardly eats anything is laughably inappropriate. Birds eat many times their weight every day, and I’ve yet to see a chapter of Weight Watchers for Warblers open in any neighborhood near or far.

No, sir. Birds are ripped, as they say. Like charter members of Cross Fit. In great shape, as is Harrison’s sense of humor—a good thing to hold onto in such gloomy months as March.

Basho Springs a Surprise (and Other Paeans to Spring)


It feels like winter still, but the Old Farmer’s Almanac says differently. It’s the first day of spring. The long-awaited equinox. Poets, like farmers, have forever taken note. It moved Robert “Beginning to Melt” Frost to prayer, for instance:

“A Prayer in Spring”

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

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
To which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends he will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

Yes, yes. There’s something about spring that pulls the “Oh’s” and the “O’s” from poets’ throats. I give you the experienced (and innocent) William Blake:

“To Spring”

O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Thro’ the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills tell each other, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turned
Up to thy bright pavilions: issue forth,
And let thy holy feet visit our clime.

Come o’er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumed garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languished head,
Whose modest tresses were bound up for thee.

There’s something about British poets and cuckoos, too. Here they only come in clocks: Eastern Standard Cuckoos and Daylight Savings Cuckoos. Let’s listen to some Bardilicious Shakespeare:


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.
When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men, for thus sings he:
Cuckoo, cuckoo!’ O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear.

Closer to (my) home, we have Claude McKay mucking about New Hampshire in mud season, thinking on fast-approaching April and slower-approaching May:

“Spring in New Hampshire”

Too green the springing April grass,
Too blue the silver-speckled sky,
For me to linger here, alas,
While happy winds go laughing by,
Wasting the golden hours indoors,
Washing windows and scrubbing floors.

Too wonderful the April night,
Too faintly sweet the first May flowers,
The stars too gloriously bright,
For me to spend the evening hours,
When fields are fresh and streams are leaping,
Wearied, exhausted, dully sleeping.

Here Katherine Mansfield unfurls a few flags of tenderest green:

“Very Early Spring”

The fields are snowbound no longer;
There are little blue lakes and flags of tenderest green.
The snow has been caught up into the sky–
So many white clouds–and the blue of the sky is cold.
Now the sun walks in the forest,
He touches the bows and stems with his golden fingers;
They shiver, and wake from slumber.
Over the barren branches he shakes his yellow curls.
Yet is the forest full of the sound of tears….
A wind dances over the fields.
Shrill and clear the sound of her waking laughter,
Yet the little blue lakes tremble
And the flags of tenderest green bend and quiver.

Pete Crowther channels the old country of “Jolly Olde,” plowing the way for red-winged blackbird season:

“Srping–It Is Icumen In”

There is no breath of wind today
The fields still white with frost
So clear the air that I can see
For miles and miles to where
A village church is almost hid
By trees, and here and there
A tiny plume of smoke betrays
Some farmhouse tucked away.
All seems to be expectancy:
The very air vibrates
And sparkles with the promise that
Sweet spring is on the way.
I feel my spirit lift, take wing
To be alive this day.

(Crowther’s being a play on the Middle English song with its famous refrain: Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu / Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!)

Finally, lest your eyes go bleary with all these distinct, look-alike paeans to spring, I leave you with Matsuo Basho. You can always count on Basho to approach things differently. And succinctly:

First day of spring–
I keep thinking about
the end of autumn.