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Claude McKay's "Spring in New Hampshire"

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

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.

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 sestet 2 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," and fish are "leaping" up out 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

Life Sketch of Claude McKay

Born in Jamaica on September 15, 1889, Claude McKay received a home-school education in the English master writers through his older brother, Uriah Theophilus McKay, who was a teacher.

The poet began publishing poetry in 1912 with his Songs of Jamaica, in which he wrote about Jamaican life in a Jamaican dialect. Also, in 1912, Claude relocated to the USA, where he attended Tuskegee Institute briefly, before transferring to Kansas State University, where he studied agriculture.

In 1917, Mckay's next publishing adventure included two tightly structured sonnets: "The Harlem Dancer," an English (or Shakespearean) sonnet and "Invocation," an Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet. He continued to experiment with the sonnet form as he drifted into political interests and social activism.

After developing an interest in Communism, McKay took a trip to Russia. He then traveled to France, where he became acquainted with novelist and social activist, Lewis Sinclair, and American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay.

McKay eventually lost his enthusiasm for Communism, after returning to the USA. Later, he settled in Harlem and while retaining his interests in politics, he also developed an interest in religion and spirituality and converted to Catholicism.

McKay's influence in politics and spiritual teachings helped him achieve a poetic style that attracted the younger writers of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes, who became one the leading voices of that literary movement.

On May 22, 1948, Claude McKay died of heart failure after suffering several years of declining health.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes

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