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Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring"

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.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Introduction and Text of "Spring"


Father Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring" dramatizes the theme stated in the first line, "Nothing is so beautiful as spring," as it relates the season of renewal to the Resurrection of Christ. Father Hopkins' "Spring" dramatizes the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lamb of God, along with the returned greening of the landscape as well as the new birth of foliage, flowers, and fowl. This poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, with the rime scheme ABBAABBA in the octave and CDCDCD in the sestet.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Spring

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Reading of "Spring"

Commentary

This poem is celebrating the Resurrection of the Lamb of God, along with the greening of the landscape and the new birth of foliage, flowers, and fowl.

Octave: Surpassing Beauty

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

The speaker makes a simple claim that spring surpasses the beauty of all other seasons. He then offers a description of spring's features, qualities, and activities that leads him to believe his claim. Spring is the time, "When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush."

The speaker is so enthralled with the warming season that he even finds beauty where many would not: in weeds. His alliteration, "long and lovely and lush," offers liquid evidence that those weeds growing "in wheels" are truly beautiful.

The eggs of a bird, the thrush, are so beautiful that they remind the speaker of "little low heavens"; instead of merely being the place where new birds are being nourished, the eggs offer celestial possibilities, while the living, parent bird sings a song that "echo[es]" through the woods. The thrush's song is so refreshing that it is able to "rinse and wring / The ear." And the song is so uplifting and stark that, "it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing."

While listening to the glad thrush's beautiful tones, the speaker observes, "the glassy peartree leaves and blooms." The leaves "brush / The descending blue." The wind ruffles them, and they scrap across the sky "all in a rush / With richness." He then observes the little lambs gamboling in the meadow, enjoying the warm, beautiful weather.

Sestet: Whence Comes Such Gladness and Beauty?

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

The speaker has just described a scene of pure beauty and wonder brought about through the natural evolution of one season into another.

The speaker asks rhetorically, "What is all this juice and all this joy?" But because the speaker is observing in postlapsarian (after the fall) Eden, a true paradise no longer exists as it had in prelapsarian Eden (before the fall). In comparison to the garden before the fall a time when everything existed in perfect harmony and balance—even the behavior of men and women in relationship to each other—that perfection no longer obtains. Thus, even a season as beautiful and energizing as spring can be considered but a "strain of the earth's sweet being.”

The speaker, therefore, requests in prayer to God–again rhetorically similar to a rhetorical question–that postlapsarian minds now may work to "Have" and/or to "get" what they had before the fall. Thus, he is implying that his listeners/readers may be able to resurrect their consciousness to return to Eden, which was a time before, "it cloud / / and sour with sinning."

While the octave has pleasantly described the beauty and liveliness of the spring season, in the sestet, the speaker is addressing God in a subtle prayer asking that the mind of "girl and boy" be allowed to become "innocent" again, which means a new Resurrection for humankind, in the name of “O maid’s child,” the Lamb of God, or Christ.

Hopkins as a Devout Christian

The speaker of Hopkins' "Spring" is a devout Christian, and to him the season of spring is much more than the mere beginning of the growing season. While this speaker delights in the beauty of new life sprouting in the plants and the newly laid bird's eggs and the cavorting of lambs, to him the most important lamb is the Lamb of God, or Jesus Christ.

Spring, of course, is the time that growing things grow again, the time for human revitalization, and the time of the Resurrection of Christ; for this speaker, the Resurrection is of greatest importance. It is no coincidence that Easter is celebrated in spring.

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the image in lines 2 and 3 of Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring"?

Answer: Line 2 - weeds. Line 3 - eggs.

Question: The sestet opens with a question; what type of question is it?

Answer: In Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring," the sestet opens with a rhetorical question.

Question: Are there any internal rimes in Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring"?

Answer: No, there are no internal rimes in this poem.

Question: In which line of the poem, "Spring," does Hopkins use sprung rhythm?

Answer: Every line in Hopkins' poem, "Spring," offers examples of sprung rhythm. Essentially sprung rhythm simply eliminates the constant beats that play out in iambic pentameter in accented and unaccented syllables.

Question: Is the poem "Spring" by Gerard Manly spiritual?

Answer: Yes, the poem is spiritual.

Question: What is the speaker's attitude towards spring?

Answer: The speaker finds spring especially inspiring because it reminds him of the Resurrection.

Question: Any exact date of when the poem "Spring" was published?

Answer: Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring" was first published in 1918 in London by Humphrey Milford in the collection titled, Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins wrote the poem in May 1877.

Question: How are the images in the octave different from the images in the last sestet?

Answer: In the octave, the speaker is making a simple claim that spring surpasses the beauty of all other seasons. He then offers a description of that beauty. In the sestet, he is asking rhetorically about the cause of all this magnificence and splendor.

Question: What are the last three lines of Hopkins' poem, "Spring"?

Answer: The final three lines in Hopkins' poem, "Spring," are as follows: "Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning, / Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy, / Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning."

Question: What are the poetic devices?

Answer: In Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring," poetic devices include alliteration, allusion, rhythm, rime, and simile.

Question: Why is Gerard Manley Hopkins comparing spring with Eden?

Answer: All of that lovely enlivening activity of the spring season reminds this speaker of prelapsarian Eden, that is, before the fall.

Question: Can the theme of renewal be understood in Gerard Manley Hopkins' sonnet, "Spring"?

Answer: As stated in the article, "The sonnet dramatizes the theme stated in the first line, 'Nothing is so beautiful as spring,' as it relates the season of renewal to the Resurrection of Christ."

Question: The verbs "cloy," "cloud," and "sour" can mean similar things. What are the similarities?

Answer: Those verbs all refer to something becoming unpleasant. That is the similarity.

Question: What is an example of a figure of speech of richness, and what does it mean in the poem "Spring"?

Answer: In this poem the lines that contain the word, "richness" is "that blue is all in a rush / With richness." It is quite literal; therefore does not employ any figurative device. Sometimes, most of the time actually, words in poems just mean what they mean.

Question: Does the poem "Spring" show Hopkins' signature "sprung rhythm"?

Answer: Yes, it is one of the best examples of the sprung rhythmic technique.

Question: What is the theme?

Answer: Father Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring" dramatizes the theme stated in the first line, "Nothing is so beautiful as spring," as it relates the season of renewal to the Resurrection of Christ. Father Hopkins' "Spring" dramatizes the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lamb of God, along with the returned greening of the landscape as well as the new birth of foliage, flowers, and fowl.

Question: What does "mayday" symbolize in Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring"?

Answer: "Mayday" symbolizes spring.

Question: What is the lamb in Gerard Manley's poem "Spring" associated with?

Answer: In the line, "the racing lambs too have fair their fling," the word, "lambs," is associated with the little animals, baby sheep. in John 1:29 (KJV), John the Baptist refers to Jesus Christ as the "Lamb of God." In this poem, the word "lambs" does not allude to that appellation: in this poem "lambs" refers simply to lambs, baby sheep that are observed by the speaker gamboling about on a spring day in the meadow.

Question: In Hopkins' "Spring," what is the meaning of "descending blue"?

Answer: "Descending blue" refers to the sky's expansion from overhead to the horizon.

Question: Which word are linked by alliteration in line 2 in Hopkins' "Spring"?

Answer: In Father Hopkins' poem, "Spring," the line, "When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush," feature two sets of alliteration:

1. (WH)en—(W)eeds—(WH)eels - depending how must aspiration one extends to those sounds

2. (L)ong—(L)ovely—(L)ush

Question: What color is most dominant in the octave of the poem, "Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins?

Answer: That would be blue.

Question: What figure of speech is "Innocent mind" and what is it mean in Hopkin's poem "Spring"?

Answer: "Innocent mind" refers to the nature of the symbolic, original pair--Adam and Eve--in prelapsarian Eden. As a "figure of speech," "innocent mind" may be considered synecdoche.

Question: In the sestet, when the poet writes, "Have, get," who is he addressing, and why?

Answer: The speaker is addressing a prayer to God, which is rhetorically similar to a rhetorical question, that postlapsarian minds now may work to "Have" and/or to "get" what they had before the fall. Thus, he is implying that his listeners/readers may be able to resurrect their consciousness to return to Eden, which was a time before, "it cloud / / and sour with sinning."

While the octave has pleasantly described the beauty and liveliness of the spring season, in the sestet, the speaker is addressing God in a subtle prayer asking that the mind of "girl and boy" be allowed to become "innocent" again, which means a new Resurrection for humankind, in the name of “O maid’s child,” the Lamb of God, or Christ.

Question: To what does the word "thrust" refer in Hopkins' "Spring"?

Answer: In Hopkins' "Spring," the word, "thrust," does not appear. Perhaps you misread the word "thrush" which refers to a song-bird.

Question: What's an example of repetition in Hopkins' poem, "Spring"?

Answer: There are two lines that employ incremental repetition: "Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush" and "The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush."

Question: Why has Gerard Manley Hopkins left the last two lines so loose-ended in his poem "Spring"?

Answer: The speaker of Hopkins' "Spring" is a devout Christian, and to him the season of spring is much more than the mere beginning of the growing season. While this speaker delights in the beauty of new life sprouting in the plants and the newly laid bird's eggs and the cavorting of lambs, to him the most important lamb is the Lamb of God, or Jesus Christ.

Spring, of course, is the time that growing things grow again, the time for human revitalization, and the time of the Resurrection of Christ; for this speaker, the Resurrection is of greatest importance. It is no coincidence that Easter is celebrated in spring. The final two lines are anything but "loose-ended"—they neatly collect together all the imagery and devotion into a bouquet of prayer offered with a humble heart to the Divine Beloved.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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