‘Spring in War Time’ is a four stanza poem that follows a pattern of word and sound repetition at the close of each stanza. The stanzas are five lines long, and each concludes with a question, the last word of which is also the ending of the line before it. This repetition provides an emphasis on Teasdale’s particular questions and it also makes these lines, in particular, stand out from the other three in each stanza. Additionally, these ending words rhyme with the end word of the second line of each stanza. For example, in the first stanza, the ending on line two, “leaf” rhymes with “grief” and “grief” at the ends of lines four and five.
‘Spring in War Time’ was first published in 1917 and written during the years of World War I in which everyone was in shock over the massive numbers of casualties and years of prolonged fighting. This cultural backdrop places this poem is an important spot in history.
This piece is a series of questions asked by a narrator who is confused about how spring can continue to come, the sun can continue to shine, and plants bloom under the shadow of war. The poem begins with the speaker’s sensing of spring far off in the distance, but coming all the same. She asks how “Spring can take heart to come / To a world in grief.” She repeats this pattern in the rest of the stanzas questioning how daylight can persist while men “Still fight,” how grass can grow and wind can blow over “New graves,” and lastly, how apple-blooms can bud where lovers, now parted by death, once walked.
In totality, this piece is meant to show that while war is powerful and it seems like it should stop the whole world in its tracks, it cannot. Fighting, and the problems of humans, cannot stop the seasons from changing, grass from growing, or trees from flowering.
Spring in War Time Analysis
I feel the spring far off, far off,The faint, far scent of bud and leaf—Oh, how can spring take heart to comeTo a world in grief,Deep grief?
‘Spring in War Time’ begins with a statement regarding the mental setting of the speaker. This speaker states that she can “feel Spring far off.” This feeling can be taken at face value, placing the time of year of this piece in summer, or alternatively, it can be taken as a small message of hope. That even though many terrible things are happening, as she will relay throughout this piece, spring and its beauty will eventually come. Even in war time, the seasons move forward.
The speaker feels the spring so intensely, she can smell
The faint far scent of bud and leaf—
Through these first two lines a reader can infer that the speaker wants spring to come, she’s longing for it. But the following three lines of the stanza show the speaker’s concern. She may want spring to come but she does not know how it will.
Oh how can Spring take heart to come
To a world in grief,
Spring, she wonders, such a beautiful and peaceful season, how will it be able to exist in juxtaposition to the horrors of war? How could it possible “take heart to come” (or get up the strength/courage) to a world that knows so much grief?
This questioning will be the basis for the remaining stanzas of the poem.
The sun turns north, the days grow long,Later the evening star grows bright—How can the daylight linger onFor men to fight,Still fight?
The second stanza also begins with peaceful and hopeful imagery, she imagines the time in which the days will “grow long,” and brighter. She again seems glad for the brightness of the days and a change in the seasons but that is dampened by her questioning as to how it can even happen with the world the way it is.
How can the days be bright, much less grow even brighter, when men are fighting in the war. The fighting is “still” going on, but the world does not stop for it. The seasons will come and go no matter what humans are doing.
Just as the following stanza, and the ones to come, are formatted, so too is this stanza in which the second line rhymes with the fourth and fifth. In this case, “bright” rhymes with “fight” and “fight.”
The grass is waking in the ground,Soon it will rise and blow in waves—How can it have the heart to swayOver the graves,New graves?
In this stanza of ‘Spring in War Time’, the speaker is considering another form of life that is existing while wars are being fought, grass. As spring comes to the war time,
…grass is waking in the ground,
It is, the speaker says, going to grow and sway in the wind. It will grow over everything, not caring where. She draws specific attention to grass growing on top of graves, especially new graves. She ends with a stanza questioning how that is even possible.
The war is so all-consuming that she believes, metaphorically or not, that the grass should make some distinction in where it “sways” and grows.
Under the boughs where lovers walkedThe apple-blooms will shed their breath—But what of all the lovers nowParted by Death,Grey Death?
In the last stanza of ‘Spring in War Time’ the speaker introduces a more specific example, but one that many would be able to empathize with. She speaks of a tree under which lovers once walked and how the tree still blooms even though the lover has been “Parted by Death.”
Again, she is expecting that the force of the war to be so strong that even plants are influenced by it. While this may be a metaphorical expectation it is a good example of how all-encompassing World War I was for this writer, and in turn, her speaker.
She speaks of the apple-blooms shedding “their breath,” this image is quintessential springtime. Blossoms fall from the tree, creating a picture-perfect image, but one that no longer contains the two walking lovers.
In writing this piece Teasdale was hoping to convey the power and horror of war, but show that its power is limited. It cannot touch the seasons, and the world will continue on around the fighting without interruption.
About Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale was born in 1884 in St.Louis, Missouri, and was an American lyric poet whose work was mainly concerned with beauty, love, and death. She was known to work her own experiences into her poetry, from those of youth to those of depression around the time of her suicide in 1933.
She grew up in a staunchly religious household and was privately educated. Teasdale’s first poem was published in Reedy’s Mirror in 1907 and in that same year she published her first book, Sonnets to Duse, and Other Poems. He was married in 1914 and moved with her husband to New York in 1916. She worked throughout this period on her own poetry as well as editing two anthologies, The Answering Voice: One Hundred Love Lyrics by Women, and Rainbow Gold for Children.