‘Spring’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins is a fourteen-line poem that conforms to the pattern of an Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet. This means that beyond having fourteen lines, the poem also follows a pattern of ABBAABBA in the first eight lines. This section of the poem is known as the octet. In the second section, known as the sestet, the six lines follow a pattern of CDCDCD. While the sestet is known to vary in Petrarchan sonnets, the pattern Hopkins chose for ‘Spring’ is one of the most traditional.
Another feature that is common to sonnets is a turn or volta. This is seen through a change in speaker, setting, or belief. Often times the second half of the poem provides an answer to a question posed in the first. In the case of ‘Spring’ there is a distinct separation between the octet and sestet, this signals the change and also emphasizes the difference between the two parts. The first stanza is a clear depiction of the beauty of spring. While the second is addressed to Christ, willing him to save the innocent children.
In regards to the meter, the pattern is not the traditional one that is usually associated with sonnets. Normally, Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets have ten syllables per line and follow a pattern known as iambic pentameter. In the case of ‘Spring’ Hopkins changed up the number of syllables, in some cases shrinking it down to nine and in others stretching the lines out to thirteen syllables.
The poem is a perfect example of a technique Hopkins was well-known for and can be seen in multiple pieces of his poetry, known as sprung rhyme. Sprung rhyme is a kind of rhyme that clusters together with the stressed and unstressed syllables. They appear suddenly together, giving the phrases they emphasize special importance.
Summary of Spring
The poem begins with the speaker giving a fairly straightforward description of spring and the wonders it can bring. He finds the season to be cleansing and rejuvenating. This is made clear through the depiction of a thrush flying through the woods and “rins[ing] and wring[ing]” the world around it. The winter, and with it mistakes and sins, are washed away.
The religious imagery continues to develop in the second stanza as the speaker directly addresses God. He asks that Christ make sure that the “innocent” children are saved from the sin that doomed the Garden of Eden.
Analysis of 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
In the first stanza of the poem the speaker begins by giving a simple judgement about spring, there is nothing more beautiful. The speaker associates the weeds of spring, which grow up in great numbers, with wheels. This is a strange connection, but the important association is to do with motion. Everything is moving. The weeds are “long and lovely and lush.” This is a great example of alliteration, seen through the repetition of the “we” in “weeds” and “wheels” and the “l.”
Hopkins uses a metaphor in the third line to compare thrush eggs to “little heavens.” This is only the first reference to heaven, that appears in ‘Spring.’ It becomes clear later on that the connections between heaven and spring are important to the speaker.
He adds on an image of the bird which laid the eggs, the thrush, singing as it moves through the woods. The trees are described as “echoing,” and the bird’s movements as cleansing.
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
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.
In the next four lines, the speaker begins by describing the listening experience as a spiritual one. When this particular speaker is out in the woods and he hears and sees the thrush in amongst the trees “it strikes like lightning.” This is a refreshing, and as stated in the fourth line, cleaning experience.
Hopkins goes on to use anaphora, repeating the word “The” at the beginning of the fifth, sixth, and seventh lines. The speaker describes the “glassy peartree” and the “leaves and blossoms” which are so numerous. They touch the “descending blue” of the sky. It is so broad that it seems to come down closer to earth. Everything is becoming more spiritual and heavenly in this scene.
In the last lines of this section, the speaker combines the images of the blossoms and leaves with that of “the racing lamb.” The lamb is a traditional symbol of spring and rebirth, as well as being closely associated with Christianity. All these features of the natural world “have fair their fling.”
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
In the second stanza of ‘Spring’ the speaker begins by asking a question. This immediately changes the pattern of the poem. He is addressing a specific listener, Christ. He wants to know, “What is all this juice and all this joy?” It is clear that the speaker is referring to spring as something which contains elements of “joy” and things which seem “juicy,” or rich with life and potential. These are combined for another interesting moment of alliteration. The line also makes use of assonance with the repeated vowel sound.
This is undoubtedly a strange question, but it is getting at a larger worry the speaker has. He is concerned about the fact that life is not always as it is during springtime. Eventually, winter will return. Here is where the religious imagery takes hold in the poem. He turns to describes the “earth’s sweet being in the beginning.” This is a clear reference to the garden of Eden. He sees spring on earth as similar to spring in Eden before the fall of man.
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.
The fourth line continues the description. Just as spring is going to fade in the near future, so too did humanity’s time in Eden come to an end. It was soured “with sinning.” The speaker wants “Christ, lord,” to take care of the world and keep the sin away. Hopkins’ speaker is especially concerned with the innocent minds of the “Mayday” girls and boys. These youth are the most susceptible to the sin that is going to enter into their worlds.
These lines are somewhat jumbled and hard to dissect. This is part of the turn in the speaker’s tone as he becomes more desperate. He is urgently praying to Christ to find a way to save the children and bring them to religion. The poem ends with the speaker stating that the kids are being “worthy of winning,” or, being brought into the light of God.