Study Guide

Spring (Shakespeare) Marriage

By William Shakespeare

Marriage

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver white […]
Do paint the meadows with delight, (1-2, 4)

The flowery imagery and springtime setting seem to go hand in hand with stereotypical notions of love and marriage. Even the color, that "silver white," feels kind of marriage-y right? When folks imagine a spring wedding, this could be the scene they picture.

The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he […]
Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear! (5-6, 8-9)

When the word "married" pops up after all that lovely springtime imagery, it's directly preceded by "mocks." This isn't what we were expecting. The cuckoo is mocking "married men," but it also feels like he's mocking marriage itself. Think about it: you can't get more natural than a bird's song, and yet the cuckoo's song is "unpleasing to a married ear." It seems like nature and marriage don't mix.

When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks, (12-13)

Everything in the poem is doing what nature dictates. Everything is in its place, doing what comes naturally: flowers are blooming, birds are singing (and doing some other stuff as well—wink wink, nudge nudge). Even the maidens, the young unmarried women, are sprucing up to attract a mate, "bleach[ing] their summer smocks." This might not sound super-sexy, but by having the image of the preening maidens follow the description of those mating birds, there is the implication that the minxish maidens might be looking for a hook-up, rather than a marriage proposal.

The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he […]
Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear! (14-15, 17-18)

"Spring" ends with the mocking refrain introduced at the end of stanza 1. That means that the song's final two lines drive home that notion that nature (the cuckoo's song) mocks the manmade notion of monogamous marriage. It sounds like Mother Nature must have been single. For all of you considering having a poem or song be part of your marriage ceremony, we strongly suggest avoiding this one.