Study Guide

The Widow's Lament in Springtime Quotes

  • Man and the Natural World

    Sorrow is my own yard (1)

    Immediately, with the first line, our speaker has connected her emotional state to the natural world. Actually, this connection has already been noted in the title, when we're told that the lament is taking place in springtime. From this line on, we know any descriptions of nature to come will be just as much about our speaker's mind and her emotions as they are about what her yard actually looks like.

    where the new grass
    flames as it has flamed
    often before but not
    with the cold fire (2-5)

    Not only does the natural world provide us with an image of her sorrow, but her extreme sadness also totally transforms the natural world (at least as she perceives it). Because of her grief, she sees the grass/fire as burning cold. Hmm. That doesn't sound right.

    The plum tree is white today
    with masses of flowers. (9-10)

    When our speaker says "today," she subtly reinforces the sad fact that the present is different than the past. Duh, we already knew that, right? But in this case it's particularly worth emphasizing, because all the differences that our speaker experiences this spring seem to go back to the loss of her husband. This isn't about the mere passage of time. It's about the loss of a loved one. We get the feeling that when her husband was alive, she wouldn't have looked at the flowers and thought "masses of flowers." She probably would have described them in a way that seems prettier and lighter. The flowers, on the other hand, probably haven't changed much at all.

    and color some bushes
    yellow and some red
    but the grief in my heart
    is stronger than they (13-16)

    These colors seem to provide a contrast with the white flowers of the plum tree, and those eerie white flowers at the end of the poem. Whereas the white flowers might suggest death (think deathly-white and bone-white) the brightness of these yellows and reds provides a stark contrast to our speaker's grief. And while red and yellow are pretty bold, strong colors, they're just not bright enough to outshine the speaker's sadness. Nice try, nature.

    that in the meadows,
    at the edge of the heavy woods
    in the distance, he saw
    trees of white flowers. (21-24)

    In her mind these distant trees of white flowers seem to represent a place where she can escape the sorrow and isolation she's experiencing. Or, to put it more bluntly: she associates these white blooms with death. But, interestingly, not in the same way as the white flowers the plum tree in her yard. No, those are all about her husband's death. But these far-off white flowers seem much more closely tied to her own.

  • Isolation

    Sorrow is my own yard (1)

    Although it doesn't make a big entrance, isolation has already slipped in the door. What is a yard? Well, it's a space around our house that sits between us and the street and the neighbors. So already we have a little mental image of sorrow creating a buffer between our speaker and the world.

    Thirty-five years
    I lived with my husband. (7-8)

    This heartbreaking little statement drives home just how alone our speaker feels. For thirty-five years, there was someone else in the house. Now, there's no one.

    Today my son told me (20)

    Wait a second, she has a son? Where did he come from? (Does she have a daughter too? More sons? Grandkids?) What's really surprising, and sad, about this line is that there is so little to-do about the son. The fact that her son is around and speaking to her doesn't seem to bring her out of isolation at all.

    that in the meadows,
    at the edge of the heavy woods
    in the distance, he saw
    trees of white flowers. (21-24)

    All these descriptive clauses ("in the meadows, at the edge […]") delay our arrival at the actual image, which is of a place that was only seen from a distance, by someone else, and then told to our speaker. That seems pretty indirect to Shmoop. There are so many layers of separation here we don't know where to begin. But, somehow, we feel like that distance is exactly what appeals to our speaker.

    I feel that I would like
    to go there
    and fall into those flowers
    and sink into the marsh near them. (25-28)

    If we look at it a little differently, we might conclude that this ending is not only about escape or relief through death, though it most certainly is that, too. It's also about a reunion, as she imagines joining her body to the natural world and maybe even joining her husband in death.

  • Sadness

    Sorrow is my own yard (1)

    Well, there you have it, folks. This widow is sad. Plus, her yard seems to be sad, too, based on this brief metaphor. So why then, is everything in bloom?

    Thirty-five years
    I lived with my husband.
    The plum tree is white today (7-9)

    What really stands out here is the jump from the mention of her life with her husband to the description of the plum tree. It seems like an awkward segue, but in a way, she's not really changing the subject, because her sadness has so thoroughly transformed her world that there's nothing that <em>doesn't</em> seem to reflect her loss, including the plum tree.

    but the grief in my heart
    is stronger than they (15-16)

    That about sums it up, doesn't it? No matter how bright, beautiful, and happy those flowers are, they won't help this widow shake her feelings of sorrow. And if these flowers won't help, we can't help but wonder if anything will.

    today I notice them
    and turn away forgetting. (18-19)

    The toll of her sadness seems to be an inability to really connect with the world. It's her former life and husband that she <em>can't</em> forget that keep her from being able to remember the joy she used to find in the world around her.

  • Death

    where the new grass
    flames as it has flamed
    often before (2-4)

    That "Widow" in the title put us on high alert when it comes to death. We're looking for it just about everywhere in the poem. And lucky for us, it can be found just about everywhere, just subtly – like in these lines. Even though this grass is new, and growing well, it is described as a flame. Flames are, to put it frankly, deadly. In this poem, even growth and renewal are described in lethal terms.

    with the cold fire
    that closes round me this year. (5-6)

    These lines sound like a death to Shmoop. Even though our speaker is describing the outside world and the nature in her yard, her word choice is suspiciously morbid. When something closes, that's an end, right? We say "at close of day" and it means at the end of the day. Well, we can't read this line without the faint feeling that it's also describing the end of a life. A cold fire that closes around our speaker? It's enough to send shivers down our spines.

    Thirty-five years
    I lived with my husband. (7-8)

    This is a lot like the lines about the new life in spring. What we mean is, while on the surface she's talking about the time when her husband was alive, what it really seems to be telling us about is his death and her life without him now. Our speaker doesn't want to explicitly go there, but when she throws out a mention of her life with her husband and then goes on talking about her yard and her sorrow, it's not too difficult to connect the dots.

    The plum tree is white today (9)

    You know that white light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe it's a plum tree, shining in the sun. At least for this speaker, it sure seems to be. Plus, there are all those other deathly associations we have with white. First, there are the images of the dead that we have: bones and ghosts, the moon over the white tombstones in a graveyard. Then we might also make a connection with brides (wearing white), which, in the case of this poem, would make us think of her husband and then, yep, his death.

    and fall into those flowers
    and sink into the marsh near them (27-28)

    This is the moment in the poem when the depth of our speaker's sorrow is made most clear. Because of a death, her world has been changed (permanently, it seems) for the worse. And now she desires relief through – you guessed it – her own death. As we've mentioned before, the way she imagines this – falling into the flowers and sinking into the marsh – also has a way of making her imagined death seem like a reconnection with the natural world.