Study Guide

The Widow's Lament in Springtime Themes

  • Man and the Natural World

    We have to ask: how come this widow spends all her time talking about grass and trees and flowers? Shouldn't she be talking about her dearly departed darling? Well, as it turns out, "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" is all about our speaker's husband's death. It's just that her grief is in disguise. In this poem, we can tell exactly how much pain this woman is in, based on her descriptions of the natural world around her. How she relates to nature tells us how she is coping with her husband's passing. And she's not coping well.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. What is the relationship between the natural world and our speaker's sorrow? What, in the poem, helps you define this relationship? Is the natural world just a way to give images to our speaker's emotions or is there more to it?
    2. What's her beef with all these flowers? What is it about flowers in particular that draws her attention, do you think? And while we're at it, what's the difference between the white flowers on the plum tree in her yard, which she doesn't seem to like much, and the trees of white flowers that she's drawn to at the end?
    3. What is the effect of setting this poem in the springtime?

    Chew on This

    Our speaker is just projecting her inner emotions on the outside world. She resents nature, because nature keeps on going while her husband has died.

    Nature is the solution to this woman's sorrow, not the cause of it. While she resents nature for continuing to bloom while she withers away in grief, if she would only get outside and "fall into those flowers," she might be happy again.

  • Isolation

    Even though her son is still around, the widow in "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" is all alone. She has lost her husband of thirty-five years. And with that, her strong connection to the natural world seems to have disappeared, too. Anything and everything that once brought her joy has up and left her. Dear widow, Shmoop recommends belting out a little Eric Carmen to ease the pain.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Our speaker tells us that a "cold fire / […] closes round" her (5-6). Why does she use the word "fire" if it's a cold sensation? What is the effect of using the word "closes"? Does this have anything to do with isolation (clearly we think so)?
    2. Lines 7 and 8 are our speaker's only explicit mention of her husband. What's that all about? Do you think our speaker might seem a little less isolated if she talked about her man a bit more?
    3. What about her son? Why does his presence not seem to have any impact on her isolation? Why aren't they consoling each other? Or are they?
    4. What do you make of the ending? Do you think she's seeking a solution for her isolation? Or is the speaker trying to isolate herself even more by falling into those flowers?

    Chew on This

    Our speaker's unwillingness to face the loss of her husband (as seen in her avoidance of the issue in the poem) has forced her into isolation from the world.

    The natural world isolates our speaker because she now views it in a different way than anyone else views it.

  • Sadness

    It's not exactly a surprise that a poem that calls itself a "Lament" and has "Sorrow" as its first word deals with sadness. The force of our speaker's sadness, the ways it acts on her, is what "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" is all about: the cold weight of sorrow, the way it transforms joy into distance, and how it isolates the speaker. Need we say more? Nah, we'll stop there. You'll just have to read it to find out.

    Questions About Sadness

    1. What in the poem, besides the fact that it is called a lament and starts with the word sorrow, tells us that our speaker is sad? What word choices tell you that? What about her imagery?
    2. How are the different types of flowers in the poem related to sadness? What do those white ones tell us about our speaker? And what about those yellow and red ones (14-15)?
    3. Why does our speaker use descriptions of her yard to communicate her feelings? How does she use these descriptions to convey her sorrow?
    4. Is this speaker sad only because she has lost her husband? Or is there something else contributing to her sorrow?

    Chew on This

    This speaker is not just sad about her husband. She is also totally bummed that she has lost her connection to the natural world.

    The speaker's sorrow comes from the fact that the world around her isn't grieving with her. She's all the sadder because everything else is in bloom.

  • Death

    As soon as we see the word "Widow" in the title, we know that death has knocked in this speaker's door. Beginning with this announcement of the husband's death, and ending with an imagined or longed for death for our speaker, "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" is bookended by the light at the end of the tunnel. In between, well, it's still pretty much all about that, too. Even the renewal of spring has death built into it: in order to have spring, there must be a fall and winter, when death, rather than birth, is the main event.

    Questions About Death

    1. Our speaker talks about living with her husband for thirty-five years. But she never says anything even close to the word death. What's the effect of that?
    2. Do you think the speaker really has a death wish at the end of the poem? If you're convinced, what in the poem convinces you?
    3. Do you think our speaker is afraid of death? Do you think she might welcome it, as a relief?

    Chew on This

    By relating death to the cycle of seasons and by imagining our speaker's passing as a union with the natural world, the poem suggests that death itself may not be an end but rather a path to rebirth.

    Our speaker isn't sad that her husband died, merely that he's not around anymore. She has a death wish at the end of the poem because she's hoping to reunite with her husband in some sort of afterlife.