Spring: ‘a spirit of youth in every thing’

Ewe what: The UK is home to around 17 million lambs.

Is there anything better than British springtime? Tomorrow marks the official beginning of the new season. It is a time of renewal that has inspired poets and artists for centuries…

“See how Spring opens with disabling cold/ And hunting winds and the long-lying snow./ Is it a wonder if the buds are slow?” wrote the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

And so it is this year in Britain. The weekend’s snow is melting away to reveal new flowers bravely stretching their heads out of the ground. Ireland won an impressive victory in the Six Nations championship on St Patrick’s Day. And with a strange blend of patriotism and farce, crowds gathered last week for the final races at Cheltenham Festival in the Cotswolds.

The UK’s long, cold winter is over for another year. Tomorrow in the early hours of the morning, the vernal equinox will mark the Northern Hemisphere’s entry into spring, as the sun moves over the equator and day and night are roughly equal. This Sunday, the clocks will spring forward as the season promises more hours of daylight.

“Spring has come again. The Earth/ is like a child that knows poems by heart,” wrote the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Why has this season been so romanticised by artists and poets throughout history? For many, it is because in both nature and religion this is a time of renewal. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus three days after the crucifixion. The increased warmth and sunlight means that plants begin to bloom after the dead of winter; this brings plentiful food for animals, which begin to reproduce. Lambs appear in the fields as chicks hatch.

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…” wrote Frances Hodgson Burnett in The Secret Garden.

For others, this movement from winter to summer means that it is also a season of juxtaposition. The sunniest mornings can be the coldest; daffodils can be surrounded by snow. And for some writers, the hopeful feelings of rebirth do not make sense without thinking about death. Spring is a time of grief as well as hope.

Spring fever

There is no season like British springtime, say some. The country’s mild climate means that for a few months, its people are treated to the best of all weather, while the flowers and fields around them burst into life. Whether you find the symbolism of springtime hopeful or sad, there is no other season which has such a powerful effect on our emotions.

Don’t be so sure, say others. The Japanese cherry blossom festival is one of the most beautiful sights you could imagine. And why should spring get all the glory? Just think of autumn in New York City, when the deep red and orange leaves of Central Park give a similar feeling of warmth and melancholy. This, as the American poet William Cullen Bryant said, is “the year’s last, loveliest smile”.

You Decide

  1. What is your favourite season?
  2. Why are the seasons and the weather such powerful artistic themes?

Activities

  1. Write a poem or draw a picture which sums up how you feel about spring.
  2. Read or listen to the three poems under Become An Expert. Plan an essay which compares how each of the writers portrays spring.

Some People Say...

“I enjoy the spring more than the autumn now. One does, I think, as one gets older.”

Virginia Woolf

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In Sonnet 98, Shakespeare wrote that spring puts “…a spirit of youth in every thing” (inspiring the headline for this article). Poets have been writing about the life, death, and renewal of the season ever since. As Chilean poet Pablo Neruda put it: “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.” And so it will tomorrow, on the vernal equinox. (See word watch.)
What do we not know?
Whether the snow and cold are truly over for the year. The weekend saw travel disruption across the country as temperatures dropped below 0C and snow blanketed the ground for the second time in a month. Forecasts are expected to improve over the next few days, but it is difficult to predict much further.

Word Watch

Six Nations
An annual rugby competition between England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. On Saturday, Ireland took the top title in a grand slam against England.
Cheltenham Festival
A yearly horse racing festival which takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse. It is famous for its buzzing atmosphere — the “Cheltenham roar” refers to the huge noise of the crowd as the first race begins.
Vernal equinox
The Earth is tilted on its axis, meaning the two hemispheres are exposed to different amounts of sun as the planet makes its orbit. At the equinox, day and night are about equal. The vernal equinox happens in March, as the Northern Hemisphere moves towards longer days and warmer weather.
Crucifixion
In the Bible account of the resurrection (from the Latin for to rise again), Jesus is crucified on Good Friday and his body laid in a tomb. On Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene visited the tomb and found that his body was gone; Jesus was alive.
Juxtaposition
Two things placed together to produce a contrast.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.