Study Guide

Spring Analysis

  • Sound Check

    The first line of "Spring" has a nice lilt, but it otherwise sounds pretty normal. You could imagine hearing it in conversation or seeing it in an essay. With the second line, though, the language grows lush, along with its images. All that alliteration makes the words seem to twine together. The w-sound connects When / weeds / wheels, then that l-sound from wheels carries into long / lovely / lush. Then (we know, it just keeps going!) the sh-sound from "lush" curls into the word "thrush" at the start of line 3, and the l-sound picks up again in look / little / low, and then the word "thrush" comes in again and rolls right into the th-sound of through at the beginning of line 4. Whew! It keeps going, but you get the idea. The sounds are like vines, curling from line to line.

    There's also an airy quality, a lightness to the language from all those vowel sounds and soft l and r-sounds in lines 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8. We do get some harder, consonant sounds from "eggs look little" (line 3) "echoing timber" (line 4) and especially from line 5 with the phrase "strikes like lightnings." These hard sounds kind of serve as anchors. They keep us from floating away on all those light sounds. After all, the scene is heavenly, but we're still on earth. These are real eggs and real bird songs, and real physical emotions felt in response.

    Then, at line 9, the rhythm really takes over, adding a new kind of tension to the language. Employing sprung rhythm (see "Rhyme, Form, and Meter"), the speaker talks in these bursts of stressed syllables: "What is all this juice and all this joy?" What might otherwise be a slow point in the poem (since it becomes abstract and rhetorical) is instead made very potent because of its rhythm. Through those bursts of stressed syllables, we get a sense of the emotion behind the question – how deeply important it is to our speaker. When we hit the hard sounds of "cloud, Christ, lord" in line 12, it almost sounds like someone is choking or sputtering. This is no neat little prayer you might say before bedtime, but something urgent created in a moment of deep feeling.

    Finally, with the lofty o-sounds of "Most, O" in the last line, the music strikes a sort of middle ground. We're not in the lightness and lushness of those first eight lines, but the language has emerged from the thickest part of the speaker's turmoil, finding some relief, perhaps, in turning things over to God.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    It's a simple title, but that one word – "Spring" – is loaded with associations. Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal of the natural world. For Christians it's also the time to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Christ. Both of those aspects are clearly important to the speaker of this poem.

    By connecting innocence and beauty to the season, our speaker also implies a necessary loss of that beauty and innocence. Spring, after all, is part of a cycle of seasons. So, while spring comes every year, it also has to give way each year to summer, and then to fall and winter, when all that growth and vibrancy vanishes for a while.

  • Setting

    This poem takes us on a stroll through the countryside in spring. It's a natural setting, but not a completely wild place. We get the sense there are farms around, and pastures. We walk through weeds in a field, and pass by a grove of trees. There are lambs frolicking on a hillside. The sky is baby blue and reaches right down, connecting heaven and earth Everything is bright and blooming and bursting forth. This is the Garden of Eden, or very close to it. Man lives at peace and with joy in the vibrant natural world.

    Towards the end of the poem, though we don't leave the scene or the season, there's a definite cloud that passes overhead. There's a hint behind it all of how this scene of spring is or will be lost. We step back from the beauty a little bit – did you notice no more description of nature appears in the last six lines? We flash back for a second to the original Eden, with Adam and Eve. But mostly we feel distant from it, faced with the knowledge of man's expulsion from Eden, and the change of seasons to fall and winter. Likewise, we have a glimpse, like a memory, of a young girl and boy looking all cute and innocent, maybe frolicking with the lambs. But we can't seem to focus on them anymore, since we're caught up in asking God to keep them from sin.

  • Speaker

    The speaker of our poem sounds like the kind of guy who goes for long walks in the woods or fields, and who can have a powerful spiritual experience just by looking at a bird's nest or an earthworm between his feet. He appreciates nature and pays very close attention to it, and to the effects it has on him.

    He's also a Christian, and probably pretty devout. For him, the natural world is creation, and so provides a connection to God, the creator. Stories from the Bible (say, about the Garden of Eden or Christ's resurrection) are not abstract stories that he only thinks about on Sundays. They are things he thinks about all the time, and feels are relevant to the world around him.

  • Tough-O-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    The wording can be confusing or ambiguous in a couple of spots, but the music of the language will usually carry you through with at least a general idea of what's happening.

  • Calling Card

    Italian Sonnets in Three Stanzas

    The sonnet is probably the most common form of poetry in the English language. The limited space (fourteen lines) forces compression of thought and emotion – there's just no room to ramble on. And meeting the rhyme scheme in "Spring" can lead to some unusual (and engaging) word choice, but will ensure a musical quality to the language.

    One of Hopkins's favorite things to do, judging by his poems, was to write sonnets and break them up into three stanzas. Normally, an Italian sonnet has one "turn," where the theme or tone of the poem shifts, and it occurs between the octet (first eight lines) and the sestet (last six lines). Traditionally, the first eight lines lead to, or are resolved by, the last six. So, although traditionally a sonnet has only a single stanza, it's somewhat common to see it broken into two stanzas at this turning point between the octet and sestet. Hopkins himself does this in "God's Grandeur."Well, Hopkins must have decided that while one turn was great, two turns could be even better. By breaking the sestet in two, he introduces room for a second turn in the sonnet, which allows a greater range of psychological or emotional movement – and perhaps forces even greater compression of language to fit it all in. Luckily, Hopkins had the lyrical creativity to pull it off.

  • Form and Meter

    Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet, Sprung Rhythm

    "Spring" follows the form of an Italian Sonnet. It has fourteen lines and uses the rhyme scheme ABBAABBA CDCDCD. Generally, sonnets are written in a single stanza, but it's not too uncommon for an Italian sonnet to break up the octet (the first eight lines) and sestet (the last six lines) into separate stanzas. In this poem, Hopkins goes even further, by also splitting that sestet in two.

    We're guessing that Hopkins uses these stanza breaks to emphasize the changes in mental direction that his poem takes. The whole octet seems to follow from that first line: describing the beauty of spring. Then – with a stanza break – Hopkins switches gears with the question he asks at the beginning of the sestet. The third time, the shift happens mid-line, but the stanza break is right on its heels, and comes in time to prepare us for the sudden address to Christ. It's nice of Hopkins to give us these little visual cues, right?

    The lines throughout the poem hover between nine and thirteen syllables each, which stays close to the typical ten-syllable lines of most sonnets. But Hopkins's big innovation is in his rhythm. He uses here, and throughout his poetry, something called sprung rhythm. In sprung rhythm, the stressed and unstressed syllables are arranged into little clusters, to create a sudden bursts or breaks in the speed or power of a line. So instead of composing all his lines in the ordinary iambic rhythm: da DUM da DUM da-DUM da DUM, Hopkins might go da DUM DUM DUM DUM da DUM DUM DUM. That's the rhythm in line 9:

    What is all this juice and all this joy?

    By clustering those stressed syllables together, it packs the line with a sense of emotional intensity and makes it harder to dismiss the question as vague or rhetorical.

  • Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

    Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

    The Power of Nature

    Put in a simple (and kind of boring) way, the goal of the first stanza is to prove that "Nothing is so beautiful as spring." But the descriptions of nature in spring also make some subtler claims, among which are: the idea of harmony between man and nature, the way nature can provide a connection between heaven and earth, and the powerful effect spring's beauty can have on people.

    • Line 2: The image of "weeds, in wheels" is pretty. But also – because weeds are part of the natural world, while wheels are man-made – by putting the two together, the image becomes a symbol for a harmony of man and nature.
    • Line 3: "Thrush's eggs look little low heavens" is a modified simile that connects the idea of heaven to earthly things – specifically these tiny bird eggs. We say "modified simile" because the "like" has been left out. It's not quite a metaphor, because it doesn't say the eggs are little low heavens, but taking out the "like" does nudge it in that direction a little bit.
    • Lines 4-5: The powerful effect of the thrush song, which "does so rinse and wring / the ear," is told to us through synecdoche. The ear is used as a stand-in for the person, in his or her entirety, who is listening.
    • Line 5: When we're told, still talking about the thrush, that "it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing" we have a simile built into a metaphor. Because the sound doesn't literally strike a person (unless our speaker is talking about sound waves, which we doubt) then "strike" is a sort of implied metaphor, turning the sound into something so physical it can be felt as a strike. But then we have the feeling of that strike further elaborated by the simile of "like lightnings."

    Christianity

    There's no doubt that our speaker is Christian, and is deeply concerned with questions stemming from Christian theology. The Christian belief in the Garden of Eden and Christ's resurrection shape the way our speaker perceives the world, and the poem can largely be read as a prayer (an emotionally complex one, at that), beginning with praise, turning to a plea and source of concern, and finally acknowledging God's dominion.

    • Line 8: The "racing lambs" are an image that is part of the scene our speaker is giving us. They contribute a sense of youthfulness, playfulness, and joy; I mean, come on, they are little baby sheep, running around! They are also (probably because of how cute and playful they are) a pretty widely recognized symbol of innocence. They help confirm how we are to view this scene of spring, and prepare us for the reference to the biblical Garden of Eden (the time before sin, when all was innocent).
    • Lines 10-11: The story of Adam and Eve is the first explicit biblical allusion we get in the poem. And not only does alluding to this story help us understand how our speaker sees the spring scene he's been describing, but it also sets us up for what's to come. Because the allusion to Eden calls to mind the whole story, including original sin and the expulsion from Eden, we are prepared for the upcoming focus on sin. So we see that this allusion to Eden helps our speaker convey a lot in a pretty small space – a definite plus when you are writing a sonnet (and generally a good idea in any poem).
    • Lines 11-12: When our speaker addresses Christ, we can definitely think of this poem as a prayer. A prayer, though, is essentially an apostrophe, since our speaker is addressing an abstract being.
    • Lines 11-12: We also get a bit of anaphora, when our speaker repeats the phrase "before it" in two successive clauses. It's not only pleasing to the ear, but it helps get across the emotional state of our speaker. We hear him repeating this plea to Christ, and only slightly revising the word he uses to describe the ruining of the innocent mind. The fact that he lingers on it tells us that he's fairly obsessed and concerned. He's also speaking so urgently that sometimes he gets a little ahead of himself and has to go back to get the right word.

    Consonance and Assonance

    Aside from the end-rhymes, there's a lot of other music being made in the poem. Assonance and consonance help make sound connections between words and images, and make the language lively and musical. Alliteration, one type of consonance, is so common in this poem, we decided not to even go there (just look at line 2: When/weeds/wheels and long/lovely/lush) Instead, we thought we'd point out some of the other instances of consonance (along with some of assonance).

    Consonance:

    • Line 1: is/as/spring. Notice how the s-sound in "as" rolls right into the s at the beginning of "spring."
    • Line 2: wheels/long. Just as the image in this line provides a connection between the man-made wheel and the long weeds, the l-sound is makes a linguistic connection between the two.
    • Line 11: get/it.
    • Line 12: cloud/lord.
    • Line 14: thy/worthy/the.

    Assonance:
    • Line 2: weeds/wheels. This time it's the ee-sound we're looking at.
    • Line 4: echoes/so. This is actually a double whammy too. The o-sound makes assonance, while the s-sound makes consonance.
    • Line 5: strikes/like/lightnings.
    • Line 6: glassy/peartree/leaves. That ee-sound again.
    • Line 10: sweet/being. And again!
    • Sex Rating

      G

      There's not a lot that's very steamy here, except if you're a plant. Evidence of plant reproduction is all over the place: weeds sprouting, plants growing leaves, flowers budding. But the images seem geared toward birth and rebirth.

    • Shout Outs

      Literary and Philosophical References

      • The Bible (Genesis, the Garden of Eden) (lines 10-11)