“Spring” by William Shakespeare

When daisies pied and violets blue
   And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
   Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
                         Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!
When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
   And merry larks are plowmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
   And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
                         Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Today marks the start of National Poetry Month, four weeks dedicated to the celebration of poetry throughout the years. William Shakespeare’s exact birthdate is unknown, but we do have enough historical evidence on record to know that he was born in April. So, this week’s selection for Poem of the Week–“Spring,” by the Bard–serves as a small gesture to celebrate the birth of one of the most famous poets and playwrights of all time.

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and began his professional life in the theater in 1594 as a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men players company. Over the course of his career, he penned 37 plays and 154 sonnets. Although there have been several conspiracy theories since his death that question the authorship of his works, it is widely believed that Shakespeare is the legitimate author of each play and poem that is credited him.

Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon
Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The poem “Spring” is actually a song, sung in the final scene of Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour’s Lost. In the poem, we see several stylistic choices that are used very frequently throughout Shakespeare’s work. The first is the rhyming couplet. Shakespeare is known to use this device in many of his sonnets. As we can see in this poem/song, he repeats two separate rhyming couplets in each of the poem’s stanzas. This first couplet is: “The cuckoo then, on every tree / Mocks married men; for thus sings he.” The second is: “Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear / Unpleasing to a married ear!”

From these couplets we can also note the humorous play-on-words that Shakespeare is using. Shakespeare is known for his wicked sense of humor, which can be seen in many of his comedies. In this poem, he plays on the sound that the cuckoo bird makes:

“…Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear / Unpleasing to a married ear!”

Shakespeare is insinuating that this bird’s call sounds like the word “cuckold,” actually derived from the cuckoo bird, because female cuckoo birds have a habit of laying their eggs in other birds’ nests. A “cuckold” is a medieval term used to describe a  husband whose wife has been unfaithful to him. It is a derogatory term, because it refers to a man who is usually unaware that he’s married to an adulterous.  Thus this little song weds the conventional season of new birth and relief from winter with domestic dread.  When nature emerges from its shelters and protective restraints, it brings the threat of unbounded passions.  Perhaps Eliot echoed this aspect of spring when he wrote that “April is the cruelest month.”  Of such tangled possibilities and ambiguities is the most memorable poetry conjured and constructed.

To read more of Shakespeare’s poetry and sonnets (including “Spring”), visit PoetryFoundation.org.

 

posted by Meaghan Latella


“Dew” by Michael Johnson

Kindles in the cool grass,
and the night builds hoarfrost
like small cities of glass.

Dawn will spill across
these scattered
shadows leaves of light.

A hummingbird
will sip a bluebell flute
of dew and go on burning.

Grass blade, feather blur,
light, everything —
we are all a kind of fire.

 

SONY DSCMichael Johnson is currently living in Okanagon Falls, Ontario. His work has appeared in the Fiddlehead, Queen’s Quarterly, Weber Studies, The Best American Poetry and The Best Canadian Poetry anthologies. He is from Bella Coola, British Columbia and currently works as a wine consultant at a vineyard in Ontario.

“I…a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.” This quote was originally spoken by 20th century theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman. Though this quote covers a much broader scope (the entire universe) than Michael Johnson does in “Dew,” the ideas behind both the quote and the poem are similar. “Dew” is about finding meaning and information from the world around us. Something as small as a dewdrop on a blade of grass can contain an entire metaphorical “city of glass.” Johnson is looking at how we can extract magic and power from small details in life, just as the hummingbird is extracting sustenance from its “bluebell flute.” Each detail of nature and life in “Dew” reminds us that we are all an insignificant component of an intense, massive story; it also shows us that there is an intense, massive story happening within us at any given moment. This message is both profoundly humbling and encouraging. We are not the center of the story of life, but he drives home the major takeaway in the last line: “we are all a kind of fire.” It is our job to bring that fire to life and use it.

Johnson supplements the deeper subplot here with a lighter sensory theme: lovely, breezy weather on a spring morning. We can all remember the way glass cities of dew look when they rest on a freshly cut lawn or in a wild meadow outside the city limits. We know the sunrise he describes in the second stanza: the one that slowly and gradually envelopes the skyline, and seems to suck away each lingering shadow one by one. The image of the dignified hummingbird “sipping” on dew like champagne out of a vibrant flower conjures ideas of the “springtime elite,” members of nature who rules the time of the year when the weather is finally bearable again. And the last stanza walks us through opposing ideals that begin to live in harmony again when winter thaws: sharp blades of grass provide a contrast to soft “feather blurs,” and dew is foiled by the light and fire that exists in all of us.

12801532_849411111351_1432895161291845961_nThis poem, if nothing else, has encouraged me to simply get out more. I often take for granted the beauty and freshness of the nature surrounding me here in Rockbridge County. Additionally, in the age of Instagram and iPhone editing apps, I definitely fall into the trap of only being impressed by a large, grandiose display by nature. Only the brightest, most magnificent scenes catch any attention: sunsets, wildflowers, waterfalls. But Michael Johnson has reminded me of a crucial detail I often forget: something as small as a dewdrop can contain a city’s worth of beauty.

 

To read more from Michael Johnson, you can read his piece about poetry itself in The Best Canadian Poetry here: http://www.bestcanadianpoetry.com/2011/03/what-is-poetry.html

Featured image retrieved from http://winteryknight.com/tag/hummingbird/

Posted by Mansie Hough