by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Nothing is so beautiful as spring –
- Spring is beautiful. Nothing can compare.
- Spring calls to mind a bunch of associations, mostly having to do with rebirth and renewal.
- And flowers and sneezing.
- It kind of feels like we're getting a thesis for the poem. And with that dash, our speaker seems to be saying, "You don't believe me? Check this out…"
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
- So weeds are growing through wheels (through the spokes of some abandoned wagon wheels, maybe). Or maybe the way the weeds curl or grow makes them look like wheels?
- Either way, the image of wheels is there, strengthening the sense of motion (the feeling of a driving force) that we also get from the word "shoot."
- A wheel also calls to mind a circle, which in turn might remind us of cycles, like the cycle of the seasons.
- The verb "shoot" also brings to mind the green shoots (noun) of sprouting plants
- The use of alliteration ("weeds" and "wheels"; "long" and "lovely" and "lush") is pretty linguistically lush.
- This line announces that the poem isn't just going to talk the talk about spring – it's going to embody, through its language, spring's freshness and creative force.
Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
- The eggs of the thrush look like little heavens, and this kind of bird makes a song that echoes through the woods.
- Our speaker seems to have lost the "like" between "look" and "little." Should we hop in our time machine and help him find it and put it in its place?
- Maybe instead we can notice that, by leaving out the "like," he reduces the sense of distance, brings the eggs that much closer to being little low heavens.
- The poem seems to be celebrating the heaven-on-earth feel of spring.
- A religious tone has definitely entered the poem with the word "heaven."
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
- The thrush's song echoes through the woods, and has a sort of cleansing effect. (You can listen to the thrush's song here.)
- Somebody should make an infomercial for thrush song – not only does it rinse but it can wring dry too!
- Like the last line, this one is enjambed, so we'll have to read on to the next line to know the speaker's full thought.
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing.
- So, the sound rinses and wrings the ear (and, by extension, the listener).
- Unless this poem has taken a strange twist, this cleansing effect is probably spiritual. It refreshes the listener, and perhaps lets him more clearly hear and experience the beauty of the world during this time of renewal.
- Also, this line tells us that the sound is striking, almost literally – the simile compares it to lightning strikes.
- Now that's some forceful and overwhelming beauty!
- The use of "lightnings" rather than "lightning" is interesting. It gives the feeling of many lightning strikes and, in that way, makes it all the more overwhelming.
- But it also sounds like something your three-year-old cousin might say. ("The lightnings are striking!") It might sound childish, but it's definitely playful and creative.
- Since the poem is dealing with creation (the world) and re-creation (spring), the use of imaginative language is fitting.
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
- This is like watching spring on fast-forward – the pear tree grows leaves and then its flowers blossom.
- Again, the wording is playful. "Glassy" could refer to a coat of ice on the tree, at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Or it could just describe the drabness and bareness of the tree before the leaves and blossoms arrive.
- Our speaker runs "pear" and "tree" together, which is, yes, playful. It also goes along with the drive, the sense of rushing along (and seeing it all in fast-forward, like in time-lapse photography).
- And, again, we seem to be missing a word or two. Instead of "grows leaves" we just have "leaves." This has the effect of making the action feel more immediate, wouldn't you say?
- If we do take "glassy" to refer to ice on the tree, then "leaves" can work in a second way: the pear tree covered with ice leaves goes away and, in its place, comes a tree covered in leaves and blooming flowers. That might be a stretch, but we've seen our speaker use two meanings of a word before (like "shoot" in line 2). We're just putting it out there. You can take it or leave it.
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
- The leaves and blossoms brush the sky.
- And the sky is described as "descending." Where does the sky descend from? Way up? What do you call that? Maybe: heaven, or the heavens? By using the word "descending," our speaker is implying the idea of heaven being connected to the earth.
- In this way, "descending" seems to carry on the idea that the eggs' "low heavens" put forward in line 3. Our speaker is really pushing this idea that heaven, or heavenliness, is not distant – it reaches right here to earth.
- The word "brush" from line 6 also calls to mind a paintbrush. Our speaker is, after all, painting (to use a metaphor) this scene for us.
- And he's also talking about creation, and this seems to compare the earth to a work of art. By making that comparison, there's the unspoken suggestion that there is an artist (i.e., a creator/God) who did the painting/creating.
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
- OK, so we if carry over from the last line, the "blue is all in a rush / with richness," the sky is hurrying down to share its brightness and beauty.
- Again there's that sense of lushness, the "sh" and "ch" sounds, and the word "richness."
- Everything we're getting so far in this poem is vibrant and full and rushing forward in its abundance. Sounds pretty nice.
- But what about the second part of the line? This is probably the oddest wording we've encountered. It's playful, and then some. "Have fair their fling"?
- We're not sure either.
- Does "their" refer to the lambs? To the leaves and blossoms? It's hard to tell.
- Maybe that confusion serves a purpose. By blurring the exact meaning, the poem is, again, closing the sense of distance. We can't pull the racing lambs apart from the blossoms and leaves, because of this linguistic ambiguity, and so they are all tangled together in this jumble of lushness and renewal and joy.
- We also get more richness of sound – the internal rhyme of "fair" and "their," the alliteration of "richness" and "racing," "fair" and "fling."
- We should also note, since we're already on high religious alert, that lambs have religious connotations. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is sometimes referred to as the Lamb of God. Christians often refer to themselves as sheep in a flock (God is the shepherd). Plus think of those manger scenes you see set up around Christmas time. Sheep are often hanging around the little baby Jesus.
- And, of course, lambs have connotations of innocence. We don't know what lambs ever did to get singled out as the most innocent of baby animals, but it's good to keep in mind.