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John Lundberg

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Poems: Five Songs of Spring

Posted: 03/25/2012 2:11 pm

In his "Ode to Autumn," John Keats somewhat cheekily asks the question, "Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?" Well, spring is back and singing again. And as for autumn, Mr. Keats, scholars revealed last week that the rosy-hued plains that inspired your great ode might well be buried under a car park. No kidding.

I've collected a few fine songs of spring below. And if I seem a little cheeky myself today, well, blame a season that's more than a little intoxicating. Emily Dickinson explained the phenomenon much better than I ever could:

A little Madness in the Spring 

Is wholesome even for the King, 

But God be with the Clown- 

Who ponders this tremendous scene-
This whole Experiment of Green- 

As if it were his own!

William Shakespeare, too, paints a glorious scene of spring in his 98th sonnet. But he's overwhelmed with thoughts of something even more bewitching: an absent love.

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

We'll turn from Shakespeare's lush lines to the sparse and striking imagery of Matsuo Basho, the 17th-century master of haiku. Here is "Spring Air" (translated by Lucien Stryk)

Spring air--
Woven moon
and plum scent

Here's another of Basho's to meditate on from "Four Haiku" (translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite):

Spring:
a hill without a name
veiled in morning mist

Finally, we'll return to that lover of autumn, Keats, and the immortal opening of his poem "Endymion," which describes how beauty is always returning to this world in a passage that reads like something of an ode to spring.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:

Enjoy this new green world we live in, at least until (I feel obligated to add) someone decides to build a parking lot over it.