Late Spring by Owen Sheers

Late Spring details Sheers learning from his Grandfather how to castrate lambs. Castration of lambs leads to increase in size and bettering of taste, and is a common occurrence on farms. The poem explores man’s interaction with nature, and touches on themes of family and masculinity. This is a tribute to Sheers’ rural upbringing, with him enjoying spending time with his grandfather.


Late Spring Structure

Owen Sheers divides the poem into 8 equal stanza, each measuring 3 lines. This 3 line form, known as tercets, is an ancient Welsh form of poetry. By drawing upon the tradition of this form, Sheers invokes ideas about Welsh tradition. Indeed, being closely linked to the land, using this form is a reflection of Welsh history, which is especially pertinent considering the poem’s depiction of rural Welsh life.

You can read the full poem here.


Late Spring Analysis

Stanza One

Sheers explores the traditional Welsh figure of a man working on a rural farm during Late Spring. He focuses on his grandfather’s work, how he ‘helped’ the man to ‘castrate’ the lambs. The link of the Welsh man and nature is something classic to Sheers’ work, reflecting his welsh identity.

Sheers focuses on the familial link between himself and his grandfather. He states that it ‘made me feel like a man’, while he ‘helped’ his grandfather. The idolisation of his own grandfather as the ideal Welsh rural farmer, representing a principle of masculinity is something that Sheers enjoys partaking in.

Interestingly, the act that is bringing these two men together is one routed in violence. Sheers and his grandfather are going through the process of ‘castrat[ing]’ the lambs. Man’s domination of nature is something Sheers explores elsewhere in his anthology – particularly in The Farrier. The running of a rural farm, a typically masculine role, is one that is intertwined with violence and domination of nature.


Stanzas Two and Three

The act of castration is presented as oddly sterile. The lexical choices Sheers makes, ‘hard’, ‘plastic’, ‘stretching’ all paint a picture which draws attention to the mechanical nature of what they’re doing. This is not a process which is romanticised by Sheers, the brutality of what they are doing is the focus within Late Spring.

Sheers presents his grandfather as being a master of this domination. The suggestion of delicate grace which stems from ‘cello’ paints the man as an expert, seasoned in this practise. The effortless grace of a musician is linked to the practical application of an ‘O-ring’ to ‘castrate’ the lambs, Sheers is drawing together and binding these two professions. The delicate musician and the practical farmer are reflected in one another, Sheers seeing the beauty to this mechanical task.


Stanza Four

Sheers focuses on the suggestion of innocence within than animals. The purity implied by their ‘pink unwooled skin’ culminates to give the idea that the animals are very young. The lack of hair and the ‘pink’ colour paint the image of just born lambs. The domination of these animals is more barbaric after this presentation. Late Spring focuses on the domination of nature, using the difference in power between man and animal as a mechanism to reflect this.

Sheers’ grandfather’s domination of this craft is further explored within these stanzas. The ‘one handed’ nonchalance of his grandfather’s moments give an air of ease to the actions. For the man, it seems that this is easy work, something he doesn’t have to concentrate on to enact.


Stanzas Five and Six

The unspoken communication between the two men is reminiscent of Trees. The silence between the two as they work both showing a level of cohesion, but also personal distance. Instead of using words, his grandfather ‘gestures’ in a non-verbal communication. Much like Sheers’ relationship with his father, he is very different from his grandfather. Although he can ‘help’ with the rural acts, he is never the one performing them himself. This level is distance between the manual work he admires from his grandfather manifests in a barrier between them.

There is nothing to say, Sheers just ’stand[s] and ‘stare[s]’. Indeed, this presentation of Sheers himself furthers the sense that he is in awe of the work he sees. This idea of being mesmerised by the process of castration is disturbing, with the brutality of the rural life being elevated within Late Spring.


Stanza Seven

The focus of Late Spring changes within the seventh stanza. Now moving away from castration, Sheers explains that they also ‘did the tails’. This process of removing the tails of the lambs is one that actually benefits the lambs. By removing the tails, a build up of dung is presented, meaning the lambs are less likely to suffer from infection. The theme of man’s domination of nature is explored in detail here, but for an opposing side – one that is beneficial for nature, rather than for man.


Stanza Eight

The final line of Late Spring has a different tone than the rest of the poem. Whereas before the writing was colloquial, this line becomes more introspective, reflecting on what exactly they have done. The significance of the ‘strange harvest’ is indeed an odd thing to focus on. Sheers is saying that the ‘morning’ that he worked with his grandfather has resulted in a strange product. Indeed, this is referring to the tails scattered around the ground of the field. Yet, it could also be suggesting that the two men have become closer through their side by side working. Much like Sheers’ father, the relationship is hard to define, with a similar manifestation of his relationship with his grandfather being explored here. One that is based on actions, rather than words.

The communal pronoun Sheers uses here furthers this idea, focusing on the fact that they had worked together, ‘we’d’. This connecting of the two men through the rural work elevates the sense of their shared Welsh identity.

The final image of the ‘seeds we’d sown’ is deeply ironic. The fact the lambs have been castrated means they cannot now reproduce. Yet, Sheers uses the idea of ‘seed’ to represent the fallen testicles. This is ironically true, yet is oddly dark against the brutality of the process of castration. Late Spring elevates the sense of rural domination, with nature being manipulated to fulfil the wishes of man.

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