When Spring Comes by Alberto Caeiro is a poem dedicated to nature, while emphasising the insignificance of human life. It explores the cyclic and permanent movement of the seasons, in contrast against the fleeting life of the poet.
While some see a morbid melancholy in When Spring Comes by Alberto Caeiro, I would actually argue that Caeiro feels a great deal of peace in knowing that things will continue after he is dead. He knows that life means more than just his own life, the planet doesn’t need him to continue and that’s what makes life interesting. It is more about being a passenger, and enjoying your time on earth, rather than fretting that you will one day not be here any longer. The poem explores the insignificance of human life, with the infinite power of nature continuing long after a life comes to its end.
Caeiro’s When Spring Comes is split into four stanzas. Instantly this form reminds me, considering the narrative of the poem, of the four seasons, with the poet intertwining ideas of nature with his own writings. The changing lengths of the stanzas could also be understood as a reflection of human life, different ages and times upon earth being reflected through the uncertain form.
You can read the full poem here.
A key technique that Caeiro uses when writing When Spring Comes is the use of tense. He balances the conditional and future tenses in order to suggest the certainty of one thing, and the uncertainty of another. For example, the title focuses on ‘When’ Spring will arrive, it is a certain event, insinuated through the choice of tense here. Yet, Caeiro’s own death, which he knows little about, is described through the conditional ‘If’, the uncertainty about date and time being signalled in his use of tense.
Another technique that is used within When Spring Comes is repetition. Perhaps most prominently in the third stanza, the triple repetition of ‘Tomorrow’ insinuates a sense of nature always continuing in a cycle. Although ‘tomorrow’ may be a time we, as mortal humans, never reach, Caeiro praises the quality of nature which will continue forever.
When Spring Comes Analysis
WHEN SPRING comes,
If I’ve already died,
The flowers will bloom in the same way
And the trees won’t be less green than they were last Spring.
Reality doesn’t need me.
The first stanza of When Spring Comes begins with these very words, instantly alerting the reader to two key ideas within the poem: language and nature. The focus on ‘Spring’ begins from the first line of the poem, nature and the seasons being a core concern throughout. Similarly, as I began to explain in the Poetic Techniques section, ‘When’ suggests that the next season will certainly arrive. It is not a matter of ‘if’, but rather ‘When’ the next season will arrive.
Contrastingly, Caeiro’s own death is explained using this conditional tense, ‘If I’ve already died’ suggesting that he is not sure if he will be alive or not to see the next season. Although slightly morbid, Caeiro takes comfort in the idea that ‘the flowers will bloom in the same way’, nature will continue as normal, the poet being present or not. The beauty of nature, expressed through the flourishing implied in ‘bloom’ becomes another central narrative of the poem.
Time is another concern in the poem, with the cyclic reoccurrence of the seasons insinuated through ‘last Spring’, indeed there was one before this, and there will be one afterwards.
The final line of this stanza is incredibly blunt, ‘Reality doesn’t need me’ being oddly bold. This is a point in which readers often draw the conclusion that Caeiro is slightly bitter, or simply somber about the idea that he will die and nature will continue. Yet, I argue that he is actually taking comfort from this thought, he is not an integral part of the world, indeed ‘Reality’ doesn’t ‘need me’, instead he is just able to enjoy himself while still here.
I feel incredibly happy
When I think my death has absolutely no importance.
The second stanza is the shortest of the four, expressing only one idea. He affirms his previous statement, clarifying that he expresses this sentiment only from an optimistic standpoint. The use of enjambment across these two lines reflect a sense of time passing, the metrical advancement of the poem acting as a mechanism to convey life passing Caeiro by. The use of an end stop after ‘my death has absolutely no importance.’, combined with the certainty of ‘absolutely’ compounds the sense of Caeiro being okay with his own mortality. He is just happy that his death won’t cause a cosmic shift that impacts nature – the fact that it will continue forever comforting the poet.
If I knew I was going to die tomorrow,
And Spring came the day after tomorrow,
I would die peacefully, because it came the day after tomorrow.
If that’s its time, when else should it come?
I like it that everything is real and everything is right;
And I like that it would be like this even if I didn’t like it.
And so, if I die now, I die peacefully
Because everything is real and everything is right.
At this point in When Spring Comes, Caeiro returns to the conditional tense, discussing his own death through a prism of uncertainty. The poet uses a triple repetition of tomorrow, ‘die tomorrow… after tomorrow… after tomorrow’ to compound the sense that nature will continue to exist. He is happy to see the world carry on without him. Indeed, he will ‘die peacefully’. He will not be sad that he didn’t get to experience the coming Spring, it is not something that he is entitled to, nature is far more important that the life of a single man. The use of a rhetorical question, ‘when else should it come?’ following this sentiment affirms his belief – nature will not wait or speed up for humans, we are living in the world of nature, not the other way around.
Caeiro uses alliteration and assonance across ‘everything is real and everything is right’ to give When Spring Comes a sense of serenity. The poet is calm, his poetry flowing calmly as he discusses his own death. The aural quality of this line when spoken aloud, due to the assonance, has a slight cyclic quality to it, the sounds echoing one another. Later in this stanza, the line is repeated, further compounding this sense of repetition. In doing this, Caeiro is connecting with the idea that nature will continue, the seasons arriving one after another in an endless cycle.
They can pray in Latin over my coffin if they want to.
It’s alright with me if they dance and sing all around it.
I don’t have any preferences about when I won’t even be able to have preferences.
What comes, when it comes, will be what it is.
The final stanza focuses on after Caeiro’s death – he does not mind what others do after his passing, either ‘pray[ing] in latin’ or ‘dance and sing[ing]’ around his grave. He will be daed, and therefore ‘won’t even be able to have preferences’. Caeiro is incredibly comfortable in the idea of mortality, not seeming bothered in the slightest. He understands that he will no longer be alive, and therefore will not be experiencing how others mourn his death. He is calm and content in the knowledge that life will go on, nature will never cease.
Indeed, the final line of When Spring Comes emphasises this idea, ‘What comes, when it comes, will be what it is’, the certainty of the present tense in ‘it is’ affirming Caeiro’s complete faith in nature. Whatever happens, whenever it happens, will simply happen. That is enough for Caeiro, it has to be enough.