Study Guide

Spring and All Quotes

  • Man and the Natural World

    By the road to the contagious hospital (line 1)

    This is pretty much the first and the last time we’ll hear about man-made things in this poem. All the rest of it is about nature. So, why is this an important theme and not just a quick reference? Well, the fact that it comes first is a big clue. Williams uses this line to set up different two worlds. On the one hand, we have nature, with its fields, trees, grass, etc. On the other hand, we have the world of hospitals and roads, and, therefore, also the world of jobs, cars, responsibilities, etc.

    All along the road (line 9)

    Oops, we lied. Here’s that road again. Do you feel the way it cuts back across the poem? We’re meant to notice the difference between the natural shapes of the plants and the idea of a man-made road laid across the landscape.

    They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all (line 16-17)

    Human objects are gone from the poem, and the speaker doesn’t talk about him or herself at all. There’s no description of how this makes the speaker feel, what he or she thinks – nothing. So. why is this still a poem about Man and the Natural World? One big clue is the descriptive techniques the poem uses. Here, the poem gives plants human feelings. Williams tells us that they feel cold and uncertain, that they are naked. Plants don’t feel anything, as far as we know. Carrots don’t worry about being naked. All of these are human (or, at least, animal) feelings. Williams brings man back into the picture in a subtle way. It turns out that man and nature aren’t so easy to pull apart in this poem.

  • Mortality

    By the road to the contagious hospital (line 1)

    This might seem a little unfair, since hospitals are places to get better, as well as to die. But, when you add the word "contagious?" Then, you follow it up with all that other death imagery in the poem? We’re off to a kind of death-obsessed start here.

    the waste of broad muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen (lines 4-6)

    Pretty grim here, too. No green, no life, just brown dead plants and mud. Starts to sound like the setting of a horror movie. What if our speaker is actually a diseased zombie, staggering away from the contagious hospital to feast on the brains of unsuspecting villagers? OK, as much fun as that would be, it would be a pretty big change for this poem – but at least they wouldn’t have to get new scenery.

    small trees with dead brown leaves under them leafless vines (lines 11-13)

    Yup, more dead stuff. Since Williams repeats himself a bit here, we can guess he’s sending us a message. He really wants us to soak up this idea of a dead landscape. He wants us to see and feel how lifeless winter can be. He even uses a word, "leafless," that sounds really similar to "lifeless." If we really feel all of the weight of death at the beginning, then the turn towards life hits us even harder.

    Lifeless in appearance (line 14)

    Here’s where the change starts to happen. He tells us again that the landscape is lifeless, but then he reminds us this is just an appearance. If death rules the first half of the poem, then the second half belongs to life. Behind all this dead stuff is the possibility of spring; death is just a mask for life. After this line, images of death pretty much disappear.

  • Transformation

    sluggish dazed spring approaches (lines 14-15)

    This is the beginning of the change. Up to this point, everything has been lifeless and still. Nothing has changed in the landscape. Now, something new is coming. The transformation doesn’t happen all at once. Williams points out that spring is still sluggish (talk about a word that sounds like what it means!), but things are waking up.

    Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf (lines 20-21)

    Next, Williams describes the change actually happening. It goes in steps, one thing after another. Some grass today, a few leaves tomorrow. We know in our heads that spring is here; it’s been introduced, almost like a character in a play. But, now, we actually get a description of spring, of how the transformation begins and continues.

    the profound change has come upon them (lines 25-26)

    He lays it on the line here. This transformation is definitely the big event of the poem, its reason for existing. It’s kind of mysterious, too, though. We see spring coming, but we don’t really know what it is. It isn’t something the plants do, it is something that "has come upon them." Where does it come from? Is it in the plants? Does it arrive from outside? Williams tries to make us see spring happen, but he also tries to make it seem strange, to make it harder for us to take it for granted. He wants us to know that it is profound and magical, but also sort of foreign. We can watch it happen, but what do we know about the thing itself?

    they grip down and begin to awaken (line 27)

    This last line gives us another metaphor for transformation. We know that the plants aren’t really waking up like humans do. Williams borrows the image to drive home the idea of this change. When we move from being asleep to being awake, we are transformed. This is just like when he talks about the plants coming into the world naked. In that case, by subtly comparing new plants to human babies, Williams gives us another way to think about this really important change.

  • Time

    sluggish dazed spring approaches (line 14-15)

    This whole "approaching" thing is really important. The idea of spring is introduced here, but the actual arrival of spring doesn’t seem to be happening in real time. The speaker sees spring in the distance, but, as for when exactly it will be here, well, that part gets left aside. Imagine how different it would be if the line read: "sluggish dazed spring is here!" Ouch. That’s probably why he writes the poems, and we just write about them, but you see the difference, right?

    Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf (lines 20-21)

    Here’s another moment where time gets tricky. If the grass is here now, maybe spring is happening already. But, it also remains in the future, in the tomorrow of the speaker’s imagination.

    It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf (line 23)

    Again, quickens can mean "comes to life," but we can also feel how things are speeding up. The pace of the poem quickens; winter, when things are frozen or slow moving, gives way to spring, when things move and grow quickly.

    But now the stark dignity of entrance (line 24)

    More approaching, but does an entrance mean that spring is here? This is one of the ways that Williams makes a pretty easy-looking poem more interesting and exciting. He writes a poem that we know is about spring, but, when we look closely, we have to wonder what exactly is happening, and when.