Our speaker declares that nothing is as beautiful as spring. He goes on to give us images of the season's lushness, in weeds and birds eggs and a birdsong. The speaker describes the effect of the birdsong as being extremely powerful and cleansing. We see lambs racing about, a blue sky, and a tree growing leaves and blossoms.
He wonders what's up with all this life and joy, and compares the beauty and innocence of spring to the biblical Garden of Eden. Suddenly, the speaker addresses God to ask Him to protect innocent minds from the sin that seems inevitable.
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.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
- This almost seems like the first line of the poem, in that it appears to be laying out a sort of theme for the lines that follow. What to make of all this overflowing of life?
- "Juice" is another word that reinforces the lushness of the scene and the season. And the word "juice" helps give a physical grounding to the broader idea of joy.
- Our speaker is wondering how to explain or get a handle on all the joys and growths of spring.
- His confusion seems to hint at some underlying concern, or at the fact that the world is not always like this spring scene.
- After all, if everything were always lush and joyful, it would hardly occur to the speaker to ask a question like this.
A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
in Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
- According to the speaker, spring is a lot like the good old times in the biblical Garden of Eden.
- Here we get our first completely explicit Judeo-Christian allusion. Our speaker is comparing the bounty and joy of spring to the sweetness and bounty of the Garden of Eden.
- The last part of this carries on to the next line, so let's keep reading.
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
- Our speaker is urging Christ to get hold of this bounty and lushness before it spoils, before it goes bad. The way it goes bad, we learn, is through sin.
- (That's what happened with Eden. Forbidden fruit, original sin…)
- The syntax is getting kind of jumbled. This seems to reflect an emotional turmoil.
- All of a sudden a sense of anguish has entered the poem. We say anguish because there's a strong sense of urgency ("– Have, get, before it," from line 11) and pain (the hard c-sounds, and the way he keeps repeating and rephrasing – "before it cloy, / Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning").
- When we get to "Christ, lord," not only does it become quite clear that our speaker is Christian, but the poem also begins to sound more directly like a prayer.
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
- It's the innocent minds that are threatened with the possibility of cloying and clouding and souring with sinning. So if we put it together with the line before, our speaker is asking Christ to save the innocent from sin.
- The way the line before this one works, it seems to suggest spoilage in both directions: both of the Eden-like natural world and of the innocent children's minds.
- Should we understand that the sweetness is what leads the innocent mind to sin?
- It sounds pretty inevitable, kind of like the change of seasons.
- There's definitely a lot of complicated emotion going on here. There's that sense of urgency and pleading, combined with a feeling that it's going to happen anyway – the kids will grow up and they won't be innocent anymore. They'll be jaded, spike their hair, and listen to punk rock.
- We had those lambs racing into the poem with their innocence, and now we have that inevitable loss of innocence.
Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
- "Maid's child" is probably referring to Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary (one of the meanings of "maid" is virgin).
- So here's one way you could read line 14: "Jesus, it's up to you – won't you win over these innocent children, and save them from sin? It would be a very worthy thing to do, to win them to your goodness (and keep them free from sin)."
- The syntax gets pretty confusing again.
- The poem has definitely turned into a prayer. Though, honestly, it could have been one all along, just one that changes gears a couple times, from awe and praise, to anguish, despair, pleading, and finally…
- This last line seems to acknowledge, as most prayers do, that the power (the "choice") is in the hands of God.
- "Choice" definitely brings up a lot of questions and possibilities. What does it mean that it is God's choice to have or to allow sin?
- The word "choice" also might brings up the idea of free will, and maybe that's the answer to the question we just asked: in order to allow free will, God has to allow sin.
- Do there seem to be a lot of subtleties and multiple ways to read each line? A lot of things hinted at and no clear answer for how to understand everything? Yes, that's about right.