To Spring

O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Through the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills tell one another, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turn’d
Up to thy bright pavillions: issue forth
And let thy holy feet visit our clime!

Come o’er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumèd garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our lovesick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languish’d head,
Whose modest tresses are bound up for thee.

 

What were you thinking of when you were 12 years old? I asked this question to Facebook; here’s some of what I got:

“brooding”
thinking of “slumber parties”
“playing sandlot softball”
“archery”
“slow-dancing in basements with boys who wouldn’t amount to much” (Wow!)
“developing crushes on 16 year olds”
“eating wild apples”
“making up dances to Donna Summer songs” (Love this one!)

And my personal and detailed favorite:

“Riding my Schwinn 3sp bicycle to Niles Pool, trading baseball cards with friends, devising new ways to torture my little brother, cranking Black Sabbath in my room, trying to figure out why girls suddenly made me feel all weird inside, and ____________ furiously”

One soul out there admitted she was “[w]riting poems in which I would choose the appropriate font to convey my emotions”…

…Which brings me, of course, to William Blake, who probably ate wild apples and brooded and hopefully ____________ furiously, but alas, probably never listened to Donna Summer.

His first book begins with the poem “To Spring.” Apparently he started writing it at the ripe old age of 12. (Though, to be fair, being 12 in 1769, when something like a steam engine or a lightning strike to the powder keg could totally ruin your life, must have been like being at least 25 today and stuck in retail.)

…So I’m re-reading “To Spring” on my porch, on a beautiful sunny morning where spring is here in fact giving way to summer. I can’t remember what I thought of this poem when I read it in college, but I do remember not liking Blake very much. I thought his poems plodded forward, too obviously and in very heavy shoes…

As with just about everything else that I thought in my 20s, I was extremely wrong…

If you read “To Spring” in search of its turns, you will find one. An awesome, amazing one. One that’s totally hot and consistent within any 12 year old who ________ furiously.

“To Spring” is four stanzas of unrhymed blank verse. The first three stanzas plod, or rather plot, an incredible surprise. Our narrator, eyeing the elements, pretty much urges for spring—which seems to be right there, just around the corner—to hurry up and arrive. The romantic tropes are laid out. Spring has “dewy locks” and “angel eyes,” “holy feet” and “perfumed garments,” and I have to admit, when I first read these moments of personification, I imagined a woman. Why not? Spring, especially in romantic literature, has long been mother earth, womb-like, Venus, the most feminized of seasons.

…Which of course is a set up…

The turn from the third to fourth stanza is fascinating and—it feels good to say so in the year of the lord, 2014—true to the sexual preoccupations of a teenager.

Here are the last six lines of “To Spring” in full:

                                                                 …let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our lovesick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
They soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languish’d head,
Whose modest tresses are bound up for thee.

Oh yeah…

I can picture Blake, psychologically casting himself now in the role of spring, kind of making out with his pillow. It is as a stunning reversal, a genius move, for what Blake has done is:

1) Followed poetic tradition by feminizing spring in order to
2) Spring a trap on that characterization in the last six lines, morphing spring into something more masculine (yet with clearly feminine traits).

The poem turns liminal and psychologically complex in terms of identity. In other words, it behaves very much like an imaginative and inventive 12 year old boy, who, like the spring in the poem, probably thinks quite a bit about “scatter[ing]… pearls upon [the] lovesick land”.  (That line, by the way, is one my brother says is as good as any description of ________ furiously.)

But those “fair fingers”, those “soft kisses on her bosom”—they don’t just suggest sexuality. They suggest a maturity of feeling about sexuality. This is what makes the poem so surprising: it enacts the normal imaginings and urgings of a maturing 12-year-old boy, but deepens those feelings by expressing them preternaturally in a very un-12-year-old-boy-like voice of wisdom.

 

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Matthew Guenette is author of two books. His most recent poetry collection is American Busboy (University of Akron Press, 2011), inspired by his years busing tables at a vast warehouse of a seafood restaurant where the food was mostly fried and always served on disposable dinnerware. His first book, Sudden Anthem (Dream Horse Press, 2008), won the 2007 American Poetry Journal Book Prize. Guenette has been awarded residencies for the Hessen-Wisconsin Literary Fellowship and the Vermont Studio Center. His poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and have appeared in numerous journals, including Another Chicago MagazineBarn Owl Review, DIAGRAM, Cream City Review, The Greensboro Review, Indiana Review, New Orleans Review, Sou’wester, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Southern Indiana Review and others.  He teaches at Madison College.

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