C Countee Cullen

To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time by Countee Cullen

‘To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time’ by Countee Cullen is a poem about spring and poetry. It is addressed to John Keats and spends its lines praising spring and the deceased poet’s influence.

To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time by Countee Cullen Visual Representation

The poet addresses Keats directly numerous times throughout the poem. He knows he is dead, but that doesn’t matter. He believes that Keats’ creativity and love for spring are as alive as his own is. ‘To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time’ ends with a peaceful image of the poets walking together and appreciating the season. 

To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time
Countee Cullen

I cannot hold my peace, John Keats;
There never was a spring like this;
It is an echo, that repeats
My last year's song and next year's bliss.
I know, in spite of all men say
Of Beauty, you have felt her most.
Yea, even in your grave her way
Is laid. Poor, troubled, lyric ghost,
Spring never was so fair and dear
As Beauty makes her seem this year.

I cannot hold my peace, John Keats,
I am as helpless in the toil
Of Spring as any lamb that bleats
To feel the solid earth recoil
Beneath his puny legs. Spring beats
Her tocsin call to those who love her,
And lo! the dogwood petals cover

Her breast with drifts of snow, and sleek
White gulls fly screaming to her, and hover
About her shoulders, and kiss her cheek,
While white and purple lilacs muster
A strength that bears them to a cluster
Of color and odor; for her sake
All things that slept are now awake.

And you and I, shall we lie still,
John Keats, while Beauty summons us?
Somehow I feel your sensitive will
Is pulsing up some tremulous
Sap road of a maple tree, whose leaves
Grow music as they grow, since your
Wild voice is in them, a harp that grieves
For life that opens death's dark door.
Though dust, your fingers still can push
The Vision Splendid to a birth,
Though now they work as grass in the hush
Of the night on the broad sweet page of the earth.

"John Keats is dead," they say, but I
Who hear your full insistent cry
In bud and blossom, leaf and tree,
Know John Keats still writes poetry.

And while my head is earthward bowed
To read new life sprung from your shroud,
Folks seeing me must think it strange
That merely spring should so derange
My mind. They do not know that you,
John Keats, keep revel with me, too.
To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time by Countee Cullen


Summary

To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time’ by Countee Cullen is a beautiful poem that acknowledges Keats’ influence on the speaker.

The speaker notes that Keats wrote the most impressive and influential spring-time poetry during his life. He addresses the poet throughout, describing how special this one spring season is and how he’s no longer able to keep himself quiet about it. He presents numerous images while always returning to Keats himself and what he learned from the poet. 

Structure and Form 

‘To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time’ by Countee Cullen is a six-stanza poem that is separated out into uneven stanzas. The first stanza contains ten lines, the second: seven, the third: seven, the fourth: twelve, the fifth: four, and the sixth: six. The first stanza follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEE. The second and third stanzas rhyme: ABABACC. The fourth stanza rhymes: ABABCDCDEFEF, the fifth stanza rhymes: AABB and the final stanza rhymes AABBCC. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “song” and “spite” in lines four and five of the first stanza and “Beneath” and “beats” in line five of the second stanza. 
  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses especially effective images. For example, “Her breast with drifts of snow, and sleek / White gulls fly screaming to her, and hover.”
  • Enjambment: used throughout the poem. Occurs when the poet cuts off a line before it’s natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the second stanza.
  • Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “Of color and odor; for her sake.” 


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

I cannot hold my peace, John Keats;
There never was a spring like this;
It is an echo, that repeats
My last year’s song and next year’s bliss.
I know, in spite of all men say
Of Beauty, you have felt her most.
Yea, even in your grave her way
Is laid. Poor, troubled, lyric ghost,
Spring never was so fair and dear
As Beauty makes her seem this year.

In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker uses a literary device known as an apostrophe. The speaker addresses someone that cannot hear them. In this case, because John Keats is dead. He speaks to Keats throughout the poem, hoping to clearly express his experiences during a particularly beautiful spring. He is initially reticent, saying he gave in to his desire to talk about spring. He had tried to resist, as Keats’ spring-time poetry is the best that has ever been written in the English language. 

He tells Keats that he knows the man has “felt her most.” He knows more about beauty than anyone else ever has. Even in his grave, he knows more. He addresses the poet again, telling him that this year, spring is “fair and dear” in a way it has never been before. 

Stanza Two 

I cannot hold my peace, John Keats,
I am as helpless in the toil
Of Spring as any lamb that bleats
To feel the solid earth recoil
Beneath his puny legs. Spring beats
Her tocsin call to those who love her,
And lo! the dogwood petals cover

The second stanza is shorter. Here, he uses Keats’ name again. He tells the dead poet that he can’t remain quiet. He’s part of the springtime in the same way the lamb is, wrapped up in its progression. He uses the word “tocsin,” or alarm bell, in the second to last line. In this case, the alarm belongs to spring. “She” is calling everyone’s attention to the following images. 

Stanza Three 

Her breast with drifts of snow, and sleek
White gulls fly screaming to her, and hover
About her shoulders, and kiss her cheek,
While white and purple lilacs muster
A strength that bears them to a cluster
Of color and odor; for her sake
All things that slept are now awake.

The speaker notes the beauty of spring’s colors, her “breast with drifts of snow,” and the gulls flying overhead. There are the “lilacs” that “muster” a unique strength and an unmatchable beauty in the way that things once sleeping are now “awake.” 

Stanza Four 

And you and I, shall we lie still,
John Keats, while Beauty summons us?
Somehow I feel your sensitive will
Is pulsing up some tremulous
Sap road of a maple tree, whose leaves
Grow music as they grow, since your
Wild voice is in them, a harp that grieves
For life that opens death’s dark door.
Though dust, your fingers still can push
The Vision Splendid to a birth,
Though now they work as grass in the hush
Of the night on the broad sweet page of the earth.

The fourth stanza addresses Keats again. He asks the poet if they, two fellow writers and men who appreciate the spring season, should “lie still” while beauty summons them. He can tell such is not valid for Keats. Everywhere he goes during the seasons, he can feel Keats’ will and creativity trusting from the trees. Their leaves grow with Keats’ voice within them. 

Despite the fact that Keats is dead, his voice and influence still flourish in the world. He works in the quiet now, though—in the dark. He writes still on the “broad sweet page of the earth.”

Stanza Five 

“John Keats is dead,” they say, but I
Who hear your full insistent cry
In bud and blossom, leaf and tree,
Know John Keats still writes poetry.

The second to last stanza is only four lines. Here, the speaker notes the words of others, “John Keats is dead,” but he knows that the poet’s language is still alive, as do the trees and leaves and flowers. They all know that John Keats still “writes poetry.” 

Stanza Six 

And while my head is earthward bowed
To read new life sprung from your shroud,
Folks seeing me must think it strange
That merely spring should so derange
My mind. They do not know that you,
John Keats, keep revel with me, too.
 

The final stanza is six lines long. Here, the speaker notes that while he’s looking towards the ground to see a new life “sprung” from Keats’ deathly form, everyone must think he’s very strange. They don’t understand that he’s not deranged by spring. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. His mind is opened by it, and John Keats is walking at his side, in spirit, appreciating it too. 

FAQs

What are the themes in ‘To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time?’ 

The themes at work in this poem are springtime, writing, and legacy. The speaker has full belief in Keats’ legacy in this piece. His poetry has inspired him and influenced him in the way he sees the springtime. 

What is the purpose of ‘To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time?’

The purpose is to celebrate spring while also acknowledging how influential poets like John Keats have been in an individual’s appreciation for the season. While others might think him mad, the speaker knows that Keats is still writing and appreciating the season. 

Who is the speaker in ‘To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time?’ 

It’s likely that the speaker is Countee Cullen himself, or a version of the poet. This is due to the very personal way the poem is written and the seemingly clear fact that the speaker is also a writer. 

What is the form of ‘To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time?’

The poem is written in rhymed lines but does not follow a specific rhyme scheme throughout. There are examples of alternating rhyme, couplets, and more. 


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other John Keats poems. For example: 

  • A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever – is about Endymion, an Aeolian shepherd who lived in Olympia and was loved by Selene, the goddess of the moon. 
  • A Song About Myself – a joyous poem in which a young boy travels, writes poetry, catches fish, and learns about himself and others. 
  • La Belle Dame sans Merci’ –  is a story of unrequited love, illness, and the impossibility of being with whom one cares for when they are from different social classes.

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To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time by Countee Cullen Visual Representation
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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