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Claude McKay's “Spring in New Hampshire” and William Wordsworth's "Michael"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Claude McKay

Claude McKay

Introduction and Text of “Spring in New Hampshire”

The speaker of Claude McKay's "Spring in New Hampshire" is performing an enchanting little drama of human attraction to beauty as the world is returning to life in the spring season of the year.

The versanelle features two sestets: the first six lines describe daytime beauty while the second addresses the magnificent features of a spring night. Each sestet is performing the same duty of carrying the drama of loveliness and renewal straight to the heart and soul of each listener/reader.

Spring in New Hampshire

Too green the springing April grass,
Too blue the silver-speckled sky,
For me to linger here, alas,
While happy winds go laughing by,
Wasting the golden hours indoors,
Washing windows and scrubbing floors.

Too wonderful the April night,
Too faintly sweet the first May flowers,
The stars too gloriously bright,
For me to spend the evening hours,
When fields are fresh and streams are leaping,
Wearied, exhausted, dully sleeping.

Reading of “Spring in New Hampshire”

Commentary on “Spring in New Hampshire”

Claude McKay has fashioned a speaker who is offering an inspirational and delightful glimpse at the feeling one experiences as the grass is turning green again, and the sky is too blue not to notice with enthrallment and amazement.

Sestet 1: A Lyrical Tribute

Too green the springing April grass,
Too blue the silver-speckled sky,
For me to linger here, alas,
While happy winds go laughing by,
Wasting the golden hours indoors,
Washing windows and scrubbing floors.

The speaker is singing his lyrical tribute to the state of New Hampshire and to the season of new birth by universalizing himself; he does not employ the first-person pronoun as actor in the poem. His self reference appears only in the prepositional phrase "[f]or me."

The "springing April grass," the speaker avers, is "[t]oo green" and the sky is "[t]oo blue" with its "silver-speckle[s]." Because the grass is too green and the sky is too blue, the speaker insists that he cannot remain indoors.

The speaker is also finding that remaining indoors becomes difficult because "happy winds go laughing by." He is moved by inner urgings of joy to go outside and enjoy the new awakening of the earth that the beautiful spring weather is heralding.

The speaker does not want to continue "wasting the golden hours indoors." He especially finds the mundane task of "washing windows and scrubbing floors" a waste of his time, because outside the world is burgeoning with the beauty of nature and warm caressing breezes.

Sestet 2: Spring Beauty

Too wonderful the April night,
Too faintly sweet the first May flowers,
The stars too gloriously bright,
For me to spend the evening hours,
When fields are fresh and streams are leaping,
Wearied, exhausted, dully sleeping.

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The pattern of the sestet 2 follows that of sestet 1. Again, the speaker intrudes in his tribute only by placing his self-reference pronoun in the same prepositional phrase, "[f]or me.]”

The speaker again finds the attributes of spring too alluring for him to ignore. Also, in the second sestet of the versanelle, the speaker is addressing the spring's beautiful attributes of night.

The April night is "[t]oo wonderful" and the "first May flowers" are "[t]oo faintly sweet”; thus, the speaker cannot "spend the evening hours" indoors. In addition to the wonders of the April night with its sweet-smelling May flowers, the "fields are fresh.”

Fish are "leaping" up out of the streams, inviting him to come outside and enjoy the night that is alive with springtime awakening. Instead of remaining inside and despite the fact that he is tired from a day's work, he does not want to waste the spring beauty "dully sleeping."

The Sublime and the Mundane

In both sestets, the speaker is moving from the sublime to the mundane. He first declares that the beauties of the day, that too-green grass and that too-blue sky, are both inspiring in him the desire to go outside.

He thus concludes the sestet by mentioning the mundane work he wants to abandon to take up the sublime enjoyment of the warm, spring day.

In the second sestet addressing the alluring features of the night, the speaker finds the night too wonderful and May flowers too sweet to remain inside just mundanely sleeping.

The speaker offers a glorious tribute to the season of rebirth by dramatizing the appealing qualities that lure him to step outside in New Hampshire to enjoy the ambiance of spring weather.

Claude McKay

Claude McKay

William Wordsworth's "Michael: A Pastoral Poem"

William Wordsworth's narrative poem, "Michael," features a pastoral poem that heaps praise on the rural way of living, close to nature, away from the busy clamor of the city.

Excerpt from “Michael: A Pastoral Poem”

If from the public way you turn your steps
Up the tumultuous brook of Green-head Ghyll,
You will suppose that with an upright path
Your feet must struggle; in such bold ascent
The pastoral mountains front you, face to face.
But, courage! for around that boisterous brook
The mountains have all opened out themselves,
And made a hidden valley of their own.

To read the entire poem, please visit “Michael: A Pastoral Poem” at AllPoetry.

Wordsworth’s Foreword

In the foreword to the long poem, the poet informs his readers about the purpose of the poem and how it came to be. Wordsworth had been residing in a house at Town-end, Grasmere, the location of his characters in the poem. It was around 1800, around the same time he composed "The Brothers."

In this poem, the name of the home is "Evening Star," a name that in reality applied to a house located north of the property. The "sheepfold" functions as an important artifact in the poem.

Wordsworth explains that the "ruins of [the sheepfold]" still exist. He wants his readers to understand how important that feature is to the story narrated in the poem.

Overview of the Story

This long, narrative poem, "Michael," features a pastoral poem that heaps praise on the rural way of living, close to nature, away from the busy clamor of the city.

The Characters

Three characters populate the narrative: eighty-year-old Michael, a shepherd, his sixty-year-old wife, and their son Luke. For many years, Michael and Isabel had resided on land that Michael had inherited. Michael is an energetic, dedicated worker, who knows the meaning of each change in the sound of the wind.

Isabel is also very industrious: she keeps their home running smoothly. She spins wool and flax. Their son Luke is an exceptional son, assisting his parents in their difficult but gratifying life. Michael, Isabel, and Luke represent the essential qualities of living the moral life, which leads to happiness.

The beginning of the poem depicts the landscape on which the family of three has lived and resisted the elements. Their rustic farm was located in a valley. The speaker has traveled on foot, and he describes the difficulty of negotiating the desolate, difficult terrain.

The Plot

The plot of the story is quite simple: the family living a rustic relatively quiet life has been happy and functioning well for many years. As their son Luke turns eighteen, the family becomes burdened with a debt that came with Michael’s signing of a paper making him responsible to the debt of his brother’s son.

Michael decides that instead selling off part his land to cover the debt, he will have Luke go to work for a rich merchant to earn enough money to satisfy the debt. As a good son, Luke easily complies with his father’s wishes and goes to work to earn the money to repay the debt.

The family finds this decision difficult, but they all believe it offers the best alternative. The day before Luke leaves, his father takes him to a location on the side of a mountain, where Michael had long planned to build a sheepfold. Michael and his son experience a deeply personal talk.

Michael instructs Luke to put in place the cornerstone of the sheepfold, and he says he will continue and complete the sheepfold while Luke is gone from home.

Michael also gives his son advice intended to maintain the purity of character of the lad:

When thou art gone away, should evil men
Be thy companions, think of me, my Son,
And of this moment; hither turn thy thoughts,
And God will strengthen thee: amid all fear
And all temptations, Luke, I pray that thou
May’st bear in mind the life thy Fathers lived,
Who, being innocent, did for that cause
Bestir them in good deeds.

After Luke ventures forth, he does indeed in the beginning prosper. He sends home letters of glowing success. Then the unthinkable happens.

He commits crimes and has to flee prosecution "beyond the seas." Mourning the loss of his son, Michael is never able to finish the sheepfold, and he travels there daily to mourn his loss. Michael mourns for seven years and then dies. And Isabel dies three years later.

Romantic Morality

The Romantics placed belief the rustic life above all else. They encouraged the pastoral, living-close-to-nature way of existing on this earth. Wordsworth is the quintessential "Romantic."

Thus, his little story makes clear the supposition that such a pastoral life would result in purity, morality, and ultimately happiness for those who truly live such.

The reader takes from the narrative the notion that if only Luke had continued to live the rustic life of his parents, he would have saved himself the ignominy of living the life of a criminal on the run, and he would have spared his parents the heartache that they experienced in their later years.

William Wordsworth’s “Michael"

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes

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