Study Guide: Spring

Study Guide to Spring

This poem dates from May 1877, that period characterized by a spontaneous outburst of enthusiastic nature poetry. Hopkins was living in—and reveling in—northern Wales, where he was pursuing his theology studies at St. Beuno’s College. “Spring” is a sonnet, and a more regular sonnet than some of his later uses of the form: it has a regular octet/sestet (8-line/6-line) structure, with the volta or turn occurring right at the beginning of the sestet, and it mostly employs the so-called standard or rising rhythm of iambic pentameter (as in line 2, where the stress tends to fall on the even-numbered syllables, i.e. “When weeds, in wheels, shoot long…”). But even here there are more exceptions than some poets would allow, as in the lines such as the first which begin with an inverted foot, or in the insertion of extra syllables (even line 2 has an extra one near the end). The key to understanding and appreciating the poem is to absorb its sheer exuberance and to align it with moments in your own life when you have felt that same nature-inspired exuberance.

Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:

  • In the first eight lines (octet) the poet offers a catalogue of the beauties to be seen in spring, especially in rural areas. How many do you count? What do all of these manifestations of nature—these birds and trees and plants and animals—have in common?
  • How many of our five senses do you see engaged in the octet? And why, do you think, is the predominant color blue?
  • In the sestet (last six lines) the poet gives his explanation for this exuberance in nature. How would you characterize the explanation, and do you find it persuasive?
  • The poem ends with a caution and a plea. Can you sort it out?

For this poem you might want to be familiar with the following terms from the Hopkins Terminology:
alliteration | assonance | inscape

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