"Spring has returned.
The Earth is like a child that knows poems."
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
Every change of season evokes emotions, but spring, charging out of winter's cold dark with renewed life and brighter days, seems our most beloved. New hopes bloom like flowers springing back from roots we feared lost to numbing ice. The promise of new growth bursts like leaves from branches stripped bare by bitter winds. Light-heartedness spreads among us like longer days returning from the bleak night of the heart's solstice.
Every change of season has its lessons, but spring, with its palpable reversal of nature's energy, seems to teach the most. Our poets, whose sensibilities are more refined than most, often approach spring as if engaging a great mystery: Peering intently into the depths of the well of rebirth, they reach for its truest meaning and distill it down to the essence of what they have learned in that encounter. What follows is a small sampling of such lessons gleaned from spring by four of our renowned poets.
Lesson 1: Welcome a New Happiness
As Rilke's poem above reminds us, it is too easy to take this time of renewal for granted, to hold on to our winter-born thoughts, to ignore the wonder of the world creating itself anew right before our eyes. "The Earth is like a child that knows poems." Can we imagine a kind of happiness we haven't yet experienced and open our hearts to letting it touch us to the quick? Nature is innocent of ill-will, holding all the potential of the eternal child spontaneously reciting its poetry of flowers, leaves, and boundless new births. Rilke encourages us to leap into the fire of creation, to let it burn off our routinized way of seeing our surroundings, and to open our hearts to the upwelling of joy around us. Some days we simply have to remember to lean into the next moment with a ready smile and easy laughter.
"No mortal is alert enough to be present at the first dawn of spring."
-- Henry David Thoreau
Lesson 2: Act as If Positive Change Has Already Begun
Thoreau was a nature mystic, attuned to the subtle fluctuations of the seasons, yet he was well aware of the imperceptible nature of the first stirrings of new growth. Hidden deep underground, the seeds of spring begin working their way toward the surface long before its buds make their appearance. The cautious pessimism of winter can last only so long, and must eventually give way to spring's confident optimism. When we act in advance of positive change, we don't just benefit from it once it arrives -- we also add to its momentum, helping pave the way for its arrival and spreading the opportunities of new growth among more people. In this sense, we ourselves become one of the early blossoms of spring, a buoying reassurance of the promising future already on its way.
"You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming."
-- Pablo Neruda
Lesson 3: Humaneness and Justice Will Prevail
Neruda was a Nobel Prize-winning poet who never shied away from the political movement of his time. Here, his voice echoes with the passion of the populist humanitarian, reminding us that times of oppression and dehumanization cannot last. Whether in relationships, organizations, or society as a whole, there comes a time when the balance of power shifts and no amount of manipulation can hold it back any longer. The voice of dissent can be quieted ("you can cut all the flowers"), but the groundswell of change cannot be denied. People's spirits can be clouded for a time but cannot be broken over the long run. For Neruda, spring is a symbol of the power to overturn the dead husk of the old in order to sow the seeds of the new. As such, it keeps alive the vision of an equal share of the world's bounty for all.
"What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms."
-- Kobayashi Issa
Lesson 4: Stay Awake to the Awe of Each Breath
Issa is one of the four great haiku poets of Japan. He suffered many personal tragedies in life, yet was able to produce a staggering 20,000 poems through it all. In the above seasonal poem, Issa makes use of the rich symbolism of cherry blossoms to reveal the acute poignancy of spring. As heralds of spring, cherry blossoms are revered in Japan as a symbol of the impermanence of life, for no sooner do they bloom than they begin to fall. This duality, of bright birth and all-too-soon death, has drawn people to cherry blossom viewing festivals for many centuries. Families and old friends gather to celebrate life, appreciating one another in this journey that is too brief. This lesson complements Rilke's poem above -- which is a straightforward dance of joy -- for Issa ties the birth of the new back to its mortality, allowing us to feel the complete cycle of human life, with all its joys and sorrows, in the ephemera of cherry blossoms.
Some poetry, of course, defies every attempt at further interpretation and just picks us up and transports us to the poet's homeland--
"Reaching for the heart
Wind from tree to tree."
-- Usuda Aro
Wishing you the most rewarding of springs! Please don't hesitate to add your favorite poetry and your own thoughts in the comments below.
The Toltec I Ching, by Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden, is published by Larson Publications. It recasts the I Ching in the symbology of the Native Americans of ancient Mexico and includes original illustrations interpreting each of the hexagrams. Its subtitle, 64 Keys to Inspired Action in the New World, hints at its focus on the ethics of the emerging world culture.
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