The Paris Review Daily

Ask The Paris Review

Spring Poems

February 24, 2012 | by

Spring is upon us! Or almost. What poems will get my mind off wintertime?

More than the other seasons, spring is a state of mind. As you know, it can strike in the dead of winter or go AWOL all April and May. It is the season of initiation, of mysteries, when the evening lengthens and spreads out before us and we are filled with irrational hope. Or not, and we feel its absence: spring is no longer for us. “I am a man of fortune greeting heirs; / For it has come that thus I greet the spring.” We all know about April being the cruelest month; Rodgers and Hart put it more succinctly: “Spring is here, / I hear.”

We all have our favorite greatest hits (you can’t call a spring poem a chestnut): Deirdre likes William Carlos Williams’s “Spring and All,” e.e. cummings’s poem beginning “in / Just spring,” and Emily Dickinson’s “A Light exists in Spring.” Sadie loves Elizabeth Bishop’s “In Early Spring” and the Dickinson poem that starts “A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King” (though she admits it gets “a little odd” as it goes along). Stephen plumps for “Fern Hill,” on the sensible grounds that it concerns “the spring of life.”

The poem that occurs to me is “Les Chercheuses de Poux,” by Arthur Rimbaud. Here it is in Wyatt Mason’s translation, which magically preserves some of the strangeness and sensuality of the original:

Lice Hunters

When the child's forehead full of red torments
Begs the white swarm of vague dreams
To take him, two charming sisters loom
Above his bed, with fragile fingers and silver nails.

They sit him before a window opened wide
Where a jumble of flowers bathes in blue air,
And then, bewitching and terrible, the delicate fingers
Walk through his heavy, dew-matted hair.

He listens to the song of their uneasy breath,
Long earthy blossoms of rose-rich honey
Interrupted now and then by a salivary sucking,
Tongues licking lips, hungry for a kiss.

He hears their black lids bat beneath
The scented silence, their gentle pulsing fingers
Kill little lice beneath royal nails crackling
Sounds resounding through his gray stupor.

But the wine of Sloth is rising in him,
A harmonica's sigh that sets you reeling;
Beneath the slowness of their caresses, the child
Feels an urge to cry, welling and dying, endlessly.

We also polled a few friends from outside the office: the aforementioned Wyatt Mason; Molly Murray, who is lecturing on Shakespeare at Columbia; Jeff Dolven, who happens to be doing the very same thing at Princeton (and has two poems in our last issue); and Kira von Eichel, whose child was falsely accused this week of having lice—and who recruited her mother, Linden von Eichel, in the cause.

Wyatt chose a poem by Frederick Seidel, from issue 194. He writes: “I hope you won’t argue that it isn’t a spring poem. Spring is coupling, so a spring poem must be in couplets. Spring is song, so a spring poem must rhyme. Spring is light, so a spring poem is lit from within. Spring is nice weather, so ‘Nice Weather’ is spring. And don't tell me I’m being tautological. I don’t know what that means.”

Nice Weather

This is what it’s like at the end of the day.
But soon the day will go away.
Sunlight preoccupies the cross street.
It and night soon will meet.
Meanwhile, there is Central Park.
Now the park is getting dark.

Molly Murray also gravitates to the dark side of spring fever: “I always think of this Gerard Manley Hopkins sonnet in springtime, particularly the sestet—a reminder that crocuses, robins, nature's rebirth, etc. etc., can be a particularly exquisite horror to a mind sufficiently observant and sufficiently depressed.”

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,

Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes

Them; birds build--but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

Jeff Dolven writes, “For me, ‘Forces, the Will, & the Weather,’ by Wallace Stevens. Why? Till summer bakes it, spring is mire for poets to breed floures and lilacs in. But I love Stevens's spring, too, which comes to you first thing in the morning like a waiter, laying a bright blank page at your place. With a nougat on the side (new begat?), and you also get those great lines about the girl walking her dog, the rhythm of which should carry you through to lunch at least. Tip generously, reader.”

Forces, the Will & the Weather

At the time of nougats, the peer yellow
Sighed in the evening that he lived
Without ideas in a land without ideas,
The pair yellow, the peer.

It was at the time, the place, of nougats.
There the dogwoods, the white ones and the pink ones,
Bloomed in sheets, as they bloom, and the girl,
A pink girl took a white dog walking.

The dog had to walk. He had to be taken.
The girl had to hold back and lean back to hold him,
At the time of the dogwoods, handfuls thrown up
To spread colors. There was not an idea

This side of Moscow. There were anti-ideas
And counter-ideas. There was nothing one had.
          There were
No horses to ride and no one to ride them
In the woods of the dogwoods,

No large white horses. But there was the fluffy dog.
There were the sheets high up on older trees,
Seeming to be liquid as leaves made of cloud,
Shells under water. These were nougats.

It had to be right: nougats. It was a shift
Of realities, that, in which it could be wrong.
The weather was like a waiter with a tray.
One had come early to a crisp café.

Kira von Eichel suggests another translation from the French: “One could do worse than Wordsworth’s daffodils and any of Blake’s Songs of Innocence. In fact, they’re great. If that’s all it will take, go for it. But the true somnambulant, staring at that certain slant of light, is in need of a more powerful tonic. You don’t even have to have it, just think about it, read a poem about it; think a little bit dirty, a little bit delirious. Spring fever. Emily Dickinson’s flowers and bees were flirting and kissing (see “Come Slowly – Eden!”) One of my personal favorites, this one from Paul Verlaine, mentions autumn, but I think it was a mistake, and I forgive him. No bug would bite a lovely’s neck in autumn. It’s so spring!”

Innocents We
(Translation by Norman R Shapiro)

Their long skirts and high heels battled away:
Depending on the ground’s and breezes’ whim,
At times some stocking shone, low on the limb—
Too soon concealed!—tickling our naïveté.

At times, as well, an envious bug would bite
Our lovelies’ necks beneath the boughs, and we
Would glimpse a flash—white flash, ah! ecstasy!—
And glut our mad young eyes on sheer delight.

Evening would fall, the autumn day would draw
To its uncertain close: our belles would cling
Dreamingly to us, cooing, whispering
Lies that still set our souls trembling with awe.

“And if that's not enough and you really want to get down and dirty ... well, there’s my mother, who penned this, her ‘Fecund Ditty’ in 2008.”

Boffing bunnies, flipping fishes,
Spawning salmon, juicy wishes,
Oozing mud with pushing fronds,
Brown and green by fecund ponds.

Four-leaf clover comes unfurled,
Umbrella plant, a phallus curled,
Mushrooms, orange on black log,
In this fragrant earth bog.

Spring has sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where the birdies is?”
The birds, of course, are with the bees.

The bees are kissing throbbing stamen,
Thriving, pollinating – Amen!

Have a question for the editors of The Paris Review? E-mail us.

9 COMMENTS

7 Comments

  1. Stephen | February 24, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    A. E. Housman’s “Loveliest of trees … ” runs a close second:

    LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
    Is hung with bloom along the bough,
    And stands about the woodland ride
    Wearing white for Eastertide.

    Now, of my threescore years and ten,
    Twenty will not come again,
    And take from seventy springs a score,
    It only leaves me fifty more.

    And since to look at things in bloom
    Fifty springs are little room,
    About the woodlands I will go
    To see the cherry hung with snow.

  2. Joe Carlson | February 24, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    SPRING / EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
    To what purpose, April, do you return again?
    Beauty is not enough.
    You can no longer quiet me with the redness
    Of little leaves opening stickily.
    I know what I know.
    The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
    The spikes of crocus.
    The smell of the earth is good.
    It is apparent that there is no death.
    But what does that signify?
    Not only under ground are the brains of men
    Eaten by maggots.
    Life in itself
    Is nothing,
    An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
    It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
    April
    Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

  3. M.M. | February 25, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Further on the topic of Shakespeare:
    It was a Lover and his Lass
      
    IT was a lover and his lass, 
      With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino, 
    That o’er the green corn-field did pass, 
      In the spring time, the only pretty ring time, 
    When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;         
    Sweet lovers love the spring. 
     
    Between the acres of the rye, 
      With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino, 
    These pretty country folks would lie, 
      In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
    When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding; 
    Sweet lovers love the spring. 
     
    This carol they began that hour, 
      With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino, 
    How that life was but a flower
      In the spring time, the only pretty ring time, 
    When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding; 
    Sweet lovers love the spring. 
     
    And, therefore, take the present time 
      With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,  
    For love is crown`d with the prime 
    In the spring time, the only pretty ring time, 
    When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding; 
    Sweet lovers love the spring.

  4. dylan618 | February 27, 2012 at 11:53 am

    “Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart/ Could have recover’d greennesse?” ~ George Herbert, from “The Flower”

  5. A.B. | February 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    What about “Late Spring” by Robert Hass?
    LATE SPRING

    And then in mid-May the first morning of steady heat,

    the morning, Leif says, when you wake up, put on shorts, and that’s it for the day,

    when you pour coffee and walk outside, blinking in the sun.

    Strawberries have appeared in the markets, and peaches will soon;

    squid is so cheap in the fishstores you begin to consult Japanese and Italian cookbooks for the various ingenious ways of preparing ika and calamari;

    and because the light will enlarge your days, your dreams at night will be as strange as the jars of octopus you saw once in a fisherman’s boat under the summer moon;

    and after swimming, white wine; and the sharing of stories before dinner is prolonged because the relations of the children in the neighborhood have acquired village intensity and the stories take longer telling;

    and there are the nights when the fog rolls in that nobody likes — hey, fog, the Miwok sang, who lived here first, you better go home, pelican is beating your wife —

    and after dark in the first cool hour, your children sleep so heavily in their beds exhausted from play, it is a pleasure to watch them,

    Leif does not move a muscle as he lies there; no, wait; it is Luke who lies there in his eight-year-old body,

    Leif is taller than you are and he isn’t home; when he is, his feet will extend past the end of the mattress, and Kristin is at the corner in the dark, talking to the neighborhood boys;

    things change; there is no need for this dream-compelled narration; the rhythm will keep me awake, changing.

  6. Lorin Stein | February 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    All such excellent poems. Thank you!

  7. sell rs gold | June 14, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    your loading is very slow

2 Pingbacks

  1. [...] JuveniliaTuesday Tune-age: Three’s A Crowd43rd edition of The Giant’s Shoulders: People, Places, and ThingsParis Review – Spring Poems, Lorin Stein [...]

  2. [...] Paris Review – Spring Poems, Lorin Stein [...]

Leave a Comment