When daisies pied and violets blue And lady-smocks all silver-white And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight,
"Spring" gets underway much like, well, spring. The poem's first four lines are bursting with vitality and color.
There are lots of different kinds of flowers busting out all over, "paint[ing] the meadows" and making an all-around cheerful scene.
Metaphor alert: Shakespeare is using a little figurative language here to emphasize just how brilliant and beautiful the colors are—it's as if the flowers are paint on a canvas.
You probably recognize some of these flower names, but others, like lady-smocks and cuckoo-buds (another name for buttercups), are likely unfamiliar. Luckily, our speaker helps us out by describing the flowers' colors so we can at least picture that.
We should probably also mention that flowers, much like spring itself, typically have strong symbolic connections to things like femininity and beauty. So, symbolically, this song is getting off to a powerfully feminine start.
As you may have already found out in your other experiences with The Bard (William's nickname), he can be a little tricky in the vocabulary department. For the most part "Spring" is pretty straightforward in terms of vocabulary, but there is that word "pied" in line 1.
Unfortunately, that's not the meaning Shakespeare had in mind. He was referring to the multicolored-ness of the daises.
So when all those flowers bloom and "paint the meadows with delight," something happens. What, you ask? Read on Shmoopers, read on…
The cuckoo then, on every tree, Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo; Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear!
Mystery: solved. When the flowers bloom, when spring arrives in all its multicolored glory, then cuckoo birds show up and sing their "cuckoo" song. The stanza is basically one big "when X then Y" statement.
But the cuckoo's song doesn't seem like sweet music to the ears of some listeners. It "mocks married men" with its song: "Cuckoo."
Now, we think cuckoos are nice and all, and sure, their song is pretty enough, but do we really need three cuckoos to get the point across? It seems like Shakespeare really wants us to pay attention to the sound of the cuckoo's song.
Why do married dudes feel "mock[ed]" by the cuckoo's song? Why is the sound, the word, so "unpleasing to a married ear"? We're glad you asked. Without this tasty little knowledge morsel, much of this poem's intended meaning is lost.
Cuckoo sounds like "cuckold," which is an old term for the husband of an unfaithful wife.