Spring. And a strange spring it is this year.
First the snowdrops, letting us know that the sun is coming – it hasn’t decided to stay in the Southern Hemisphere – then the Equinox (last Friday, 20thMarch) and then today, when the clocks have again whittled off their annual hour. Not that it feels like any of these events earmarked in the calendar have actually taken place this year. Quarantine and isolation stretch the days indistinguishable as rice grains in the sieve. Something my Mum said recently has stuck with me though – that this would be so much worse if it was Winter. She and I share a similar horror of the limited light supply in December and January and I agree. My mental health would probably be worse if both my hours outside the house and my hours of sunlight were rationed together.
So, with that thought, I went looking for some of that hope that spring inspires in my bookshelf. Hope that springs, quietly but forcefully, like the hyacinths you had no idea were round the step of the backdoor, until in April they bloom, violet and white, an incredulous shock of colour in this bleached brown landscape.
Not to be basic and zeroing in on poems with ‘Spring’ in the title, but this poem bottles that stealthy surety spring has and drizzles it across three carefully worded stanzas. A theme of reprieve lies at the surface, with “time / as forgiveness” offered in the “sweetening of the air” and “papery sky”. I have always adored Duffy’s soft knocking of internal rhyme; pinballs of sound that echo from one line to another, building a sonic as well as a visual picture of this slow “reprieve. // The lovers in the lightening rooms believe / that something holds them” – a gentle reminder of the planet still turning, regardless of its surface happenings.
Ted Hughes, rural Yorkshireman that he was, often honed in on his natural locale within many of his poems. “A March Calf” encapsulates just that – the weird skittering of a calf, “dressed in his best”, a verbal photograph of a spring symbol. Alongside the vivid description of the calf – “half of him legs, / Shining-eyed” – Hughes examines the animals nature; “Ready for the worst, shut up in his hopeful religion, / A little syllogism / With a wet blue-reddish muzzle, for God’s thumb.” The calf’s all-or-nothing reasoning for anything “Too much and too sudden” has a political edge that whilst gentle, is a very particular indictment of those characteristics. Regardless, I like the poem, maybe because it reminds me of animals and the countryside when I’m stuck crouched and typing over my laptop. Also, calves grow up, he might grow out of it. It’s that potential and hope that spring holds.
Heaney, like Hughes, was well known for his poetic roots – ha ha – in natural environments. Heaney furthermore, had the weight of representing his country in all it’s rural glory, and probably did so most with this initial collection. I picked this poem out of the line up of others, for its imagery. Spring brings with it all that promise of exploring the outdoors again – captured particularly for Heaney with this love of “the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells”. The darkness of these wells is Young Adult novel-esque, lite, light enough that only a “rat slapped across my reflection”, kinder than the fear that lurks in the titular ‘Death of a Naturalist’ or the sadness in ‘Blackberry Picking’. It is that YA darkness, that finding of your self alongside the detail only Heaney can bring – “you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch” – that appeals right now, that promise of time and space enough to find your own personal helicon should you so desire to.
I picked this poem for its correspondence with the recent sunny weather – weather I am now missing and wishing it was back to make isolation all the kinder. Luke Wright has a talent for combining pure contemporary British naturalism with arresting images, none more so than here. The grass “poured around us like mint sauce”, “the skyline beneath us like a smashed meringue”, the images are sweet and edible as postcard pictures, tinted with the reality of spending the day with “a girl who was pro-fox hunting”. March and April sometimes give us days “all just like summer, if you squinted”, days I want to hold onto longer and longer right now.
Whilst not strictly spring related, I wanted to end this list with Bird’s sentiment in this poem. Time just… passing, that simultaneously incredible and negligible fact, is one spring reminds me of. Winter to me often seems endless, the light shrinking into wisps between tree branches, and so Spring’s arrival, even in tiny increments and actions, seems insane to me. That the world keeps turning, that this too shall pass, that Bird with her tight structure provides, listing formulaic yet incredibly detailed actions of personal progress – “I change a light bulb / on my own. Organise a large party […] I change nappies. Donate my eggs. Learn / a profound lesson about sacrifice. Brunch”. She makes the mundane desirable, condenses years of a life into an easily digestible, comforting repetition of sane acts, practised with a devotion I know I wish I could have.
And let’s be honest, we could all do with some sanity right about now.
This post was written by Nat Henderson.
Featured images are property of Nat Henderson.