“Spring is here / why don’t I feel like dancing?” So goes the mournful and lyrical phrase that has stuck in my mind through the years. I am so glad that many of my favorite writers also question the instant promise of joy at the beginning of spring. While I still appreciate the laudatory praises of spring’s pastel palette, I also appreciate Emily Dickinson’s exasperation when she wants the “siren throats” of spring birds to be silent “at night’s delicious close” since their spring songs have her focused on loss. And the lovely and brilliant Edna St. Vincent Millay’s annoyance that April returns again with loveliness—but she has lost interest. Harlem Renaissance writer Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s insightful sonnet longs for a spring devoid of florist shops—she knows spring by the crush of violets underneath her feet.
Enjoy these literary explorations of the other side of a murkier April along with a spring imagined as always bright, always sunny.
The Saddest Noise, The Sweetest Noise
The saddest noise, the sweetest noise,
The maddest noise that grows,
The birds, they make it in the spring,
At night’s delicious close.
Between the March and April line,
That magical frontier
Beyond which summer hesitates,
Almost too heavenly near.
It makes us think of all the dead
That sauntered with us here,
By separation’s sorcery
Made cruelty more dear.
It makes us think of what we had,
We almost wish those siren throats
Would go, and sing no more.
“It’s that magnificent interlude in New York between winter and spring, when you feel the warmth stirring, and you remember that the dreadful naked trees will inevitably sprout tiny green buds, soon. Everyone rushes into the parks, the streets—and you even forget that, very soon, summer will come scorchingly, dropping from the sky like a blanket of steam…” —John Rechy, City of Night
“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.” —Pablo Neruda, Chilean Poet and Nobel Prize Winner
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second April
“I enjoy the spring more than the autumn now. One does, I think, as one gets older.” —Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” —Anne Bradstreet, [Meditations Divine and Moral] The Works of Anne Bradstreet
I had no thought of violets of late,
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
In wistful April days, when lovers mate
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.
The thought of violets means florists’ shops,
And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;
And garish lights, and mincing little fops
And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine.
So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed,
I had forgot wide fields, and clear brown streams;
The perfect loveliness that God hath made,—
Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.
And now—unwittingly, you’ve made me dream
Of violets, and my soul’s forgotten gleam.
—Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Harlem Renaissance Writer
Always it’s Spring (and everyone’s in love and flowers pick themselves.” —E.E. Cummings, 100 Selected Poems
Come with me into the woods where spring is
advancing, as it does, no matter what,
not being singular or particular, but one
of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.
—Mary Oliver, Dog Songs
“At the best of times, spring hurts depressives.” —Angela Carter, Shadow Dance by Angela Carter
“Spring is made of solid, fourteen-karat gratitude, the reward for the long wait. Every religious tradition from the northern hemisphere honors some form of April hallelujah, for this is the season of exquisite redemption, a slam-bang return to joy after a season of cold second thoughts.” —Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” —Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg
Spring passes and one remember’s one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.