Meditation 3: “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;

        5

  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

        10

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.

Don’t let the brevity of a poem fool you: reading poetry isn’t easy work. Sometimes the best we can do is pick out a word or phrase that moves us and hold onto that for any sort of meaning or “take away.” In today’s meditation, “Spring,” this is somewhat the case for me. I selected the poem because of the enthusiasm in Hopkins’s tone, but there’s a line in the sestet (the last six lines of a Petrarchan sonnet, which this is) that pops: “What is all this juice and all this joy?” Indeed, what is all this juice and joy? What does this even mean?

To discover what this means, we need to go back to the octave (the first eight lines of Petrarchan sonnet) and look at what is provoking Hopkins’s question. But first, let’s look at some of the sound play in this solitary line, for Hopkins uses this same sort of sound play throughout the poem. There are numerous sound devices at a poet’s disposal, but in this poem Hopkins chooses alliteration as his primary device. Simply put, alliteration occurs when two or more words in close proximity begin with the same letter or sound. Hopkins’s skillful use of alliteration in this line—and in the rest of this poem—emphasizes key terms:

juice/joy (in this line)

weeds/wheels

long/lovely/lush

look/little/low

rush/richness

cloy/cloud

mind/mayday

worthy/winning (in some of the other lines)

Most of these terms are important to the central ideas/meanings of the poem. Hopkins’s use of each word’s sound by way of alliteration emphasizes them for us, subtly pressing them into our imagination. [Click to Tweet]

Back to meaning proper, what is the “juice” and “joy” Hopkins is talking about? He is reveling in four main images, things which for him are the beauties of Spring. The first is, perhaps, a surprise to most of us, namely weeds. Where most of us might see clutter and disruption of beauty, Hopkins sees balance and order. These weeds grow out in what looks like wheels, “long and lovely and lush.” Note that his compiling of these l-words with the article “and” draws out the listed description and matches up (to some extent) with what he is seeing. The second image in the first eight lines is “thrush’s eggs,” which look like little earths. The thrush’s singings (perhaps a third image) “rinse and wring/the ear” and “strikes like lightning.” This is some singing! The third image is of a pear tree, specifically its leaves and blooms which, like a paintbrush or something of great height, “brush/ the descending blue” sky, the sky that itself is “in a rush/ with richness” in its spring color and glory. The final image of lambs reflects this image of the rushing sky, for the lambs, too, race about, apparently also eager in this spring-time grandeur.

All this is what prompts Hopkins to ask the question which first grabbed my attention. Indeed, “What is all this juice and all this joy?” Rather than answering the question, Hopkins is led to usher a plea to Christ. While the final five lines of this poem are a bit tricky, he seems to be asking Christ to preserve this “strain” of what remains of creation since its fall. Further, he asks that “Christ, lord” would “have, get” the “innocent mind” of the young before their minds and imaginations “cloy,” “cloud,” and “sour.” Rescuing such imaginations (“minds”) is certainly “worthy” of being won.

~~~*~~~

As with Hopkins’s other poems we’ve discussed thus far here at “Living Outside the Lines,” there is much to ponder and consider. How do you respond to spring? Do you see beauty in such pesky things as weeds? Does the beauty of creation—eggs and birds and songs and “dancing” animals well up in you any emotion? Is there greater humanity to be gained through such a poem as this? through the contemplation of creation?

Want Help Starting Your Book Club? Read This Post.

Want Help Starting Your Book Club? Read This Post.
About Kent Travis

If you are enjoying Kent Travis' teaching on reading poetry, then check out this short book, You Want Me To Read What?  It's packed with helpful tips for enjoying poetry. I didn't believe I could understand poetry until I read his book. It's awesome!

Kent Travis is the Humanities Department Chair at the Brook Hill School.  

http://mkenttravis.com

https://twitter.com/MKentTravis

www.brookhill.org

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