Spring, the Sweet Spring

Spring the Sweet Spring
 Overview

This is about praising the beauty and life that Spring produces. If you live in a country without seasons… Uganda… be aware that the English Spring is the time trees blossom, lambs are born and everything starts to warm up; it is a season associated with celebration as the winter has been banished and the world becomes pretty and fertile again.

However, it is also praising some of the things Spring might represent. For instance, the beginning of a relationship can and is linked to the Spring.

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
        Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country houses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
       Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
       Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, to-witta-woo!
        Spring, the sweet spring!

Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)

Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.


ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

This is a song from Thomas Nashe’s 1600 play Summer’s Last Will and Testaments, which was seen as an intellectual masterpiece (according to Wikipedia!). It is a pastoral play where the four seasons are personified and examined through different characters.

Stop! Don’t rush out to read it or to the nearest performance – let’s just deal with the poem.

We’ve talked about Nashe before (see here) and Nashe’s Dildo, which is irrelevant, but always worth remembering.

Themes 

It’s quite similar to Come Live with me, and be my Love in that it offers paints a glamorised picture of nature and pastoral life – more rural existence.

Other than nature, I would potentially link this to themes of life and mortality given that it positions Spring as life bursting with freshness and joy.

Content

In the opening stanza Spring is crowned ‘the year’s pleasant king’, contrasted with Summer which is seen as ‘king of the world’. This suggests to me that while summer is rich, ripe and powerful, while Spring is not as powerful it is the most joyous and enjoyable time of year.

‘Blooms’ suggest nature is at its most fresh and beautiful stage; ‘maids’ dancing show that people are joyful and celebrating the end of the cold of Winter (it is still cold, but it ‘doth not sting’ – chilly rather than unpleasant weather); and ‘pretty birds’ singing creates an idea of optimism and contentment for all elements of this pastoral world. This all seems focused on visual imagery.

Spring festivals – ‘palm and may’ – mean that the countryside seemed to be filled with joy in stanza two and new born lambs ‘frisk and play’ conveying a sense of energy, excitement and fresh spirit for everyone. Those birds keep on chirping happily and now are joined by shepherds becoming musically inspired too. Now we are being bombarded with the sounds of merriment and enjoyment.

Finally, we ‘breathe sweet’ scents of nature being reborn through fresh fields and daisies. This stanza also then makes a direct comparison between the season and love, tying Spring to when ‘young lovers meet’ and thus romance, the excitement of possibility and maybe even fertility. It concludes with an idea that the joy of Spring is not an isolated thing, but ‘every street’ seems alive with the music and joy of the season.

Language and techniques

Here it is all about imagery.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that imagery is just about making you imagine how something looks, but it is about immersing you into the writer/poet’s world.

Rich natural visuals of the ‘blooms’ on the trees, symbolising rebirth and beauty, are met with joyous human emotion expressed through the ‘maids [who] dance’ and the sounds of ‘shepherds pip[ing]‘ and birds singing showing the harmony between all aspects of the countryside. We are even challenged to imagine the freshness of the air when the ‘fields breathe sweet’.

Mention the repetition of the final line in each stanza. Onomatopoeia makes us almost sing in the voices of the different birds (cuckoo, nightingale, lapwing and owl) as we read the poem and conveys the joy that this poem expresses throughout and ties to the season.

You’ll sound very clever if you can also integrate sensible comment about the use of pathetic fallacy. ‘Young lovers meet’ ties the idea of the natural freshness and excitement of Spring with the first emotions of love or romance.

Structure

Rhyming is a big thing here and it’s pretty easy to explain why.

You’ll notice that all the lines of each stanza, bar the last line, rhyme (sit is a half-rhyme…)! So simple. You may not have noticed that this rhyme also appears somewhere else in most lines:

Stanza 1 – spring, king, thing, ring, sting, sing
Stanza 2 – may, gay, play, day, aye (I’m fairly sure it’s meant to be pronounced in the same way here), lay
Stanza 3 – sweet, feet, meet, sit (hmmm…), street, greet

Why? Remember this was originally a song in a play, so this simple rhyme helps with rhythm and to achieve a sing songy progression that is as cheerful as the content being covered.

The repetition of the bird song both acts as a chorus and it fills the song/poem with joyful chirping the whole way through.

Tone

Joy and excitement – celebrating the end of the cold and death and the arrival of warmth and opportunity.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

4 thoughts on “Spring, the Sweet Spring”

  1. this is very much helpful. please help me on this question I came across. DISCUSS THE LANGUAGE AND FORM IN THW POEM SONNET 18 BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

    1. The question is basically an invitation to discuss whatever you want; language and form means basically all the words and the structure, but allows you to tell the story of the poem through analysis of all the bits you find interesting, exploring how Shakespeare creates meaning with specific words, techniques or his structure. Hope this helps, read my notes for the poem as well and that should help guide your comments.

  2. Hi, just a quick question.
    I have been asked by my teacher to comment on the form, structure and language of a poem. What does it mean by ‘form’?

    1. Form and structure are really one and the same thing: line length, number of stanzas, rhyme etc. My advice would be to comment on the things you think are really significant in the poem and that may well mean that form and structure don’t get as much attention as language. Hope this helps!

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