Capturing the Seasons in Literature

Living in a temperate country for the past three months made me learn more about the beauty of, and problems that go with, the changing of the seasons. No wonder weather and seasons have been the subject of many a poem.

It was winter when I arrived in Austria. From the window of the train, I saw the snow falling lightly on the ground. It was beautiful but also quiet. It was far from the playful fun that I used to associate it with: kids and making snowmen.

I thought of the poem by Miguel de Unamuno titled “The Snowfall Is So Silent.” It begins with the following lines: “The snowfall is so silent, so slow, bit by bit, with delicacy it settles down on the earth and covers over the fields. The silent snow comes down white and weightless; snowfall makes no noise, falls as forgetting falls, flake after flake.”

That imagery felt so true. No wonder snow, as much as it has been associated with play and White Christmases, has also been associated with loneliness or danger. Think of the ice goddess Skadi from the Norse Mythology whose name may have had roots in the words for either harm or shadow or think of the possibility of death through freezing in Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire”.

In the coming days, when the snow became heavier and more frequent, the weather became really cold and almost everything got covered in white. I could not help but wish for spring to arrive.

Finally, it did. It started getting warmer in the last week of February and it officially became spring in March.

Out of joy, I started posting pictures of nature in my Instagram and used as caption some lines from poems about flowers and spring. I found the images presented in the poems very interesting. They were depicting the way nature works and their descriptions were pretty accurate.

For instance, the picture below was taken during the last week of February. Pigeons just started flying around again – as anticipated in William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written in Early Spring”: “The birds around me hopped and played, their thoughts I cannot measure: But the motion which they made, It seemed a thrill of pleasure.”


But for me the most interesting poem about spring is Rainier Maria Rilke’s “Poem XXI” from Sonnets to Orpheus. Here’s the poem (translated by Cliff Crego) in full:

Spring has again returned.

The Earth is like a child that knows many poems,

many, o so many . . . . For the hardship

of such long learning she receives the prize.

Strict was her teacher. The white

in the old man’s beard pleases us.

Now, what to call green, to call blue,

we dare to ask: she knows, she knows!

Earth, now free, you happy one, play

with the children. We want to catch you,

joyful Earth. Only the most joyful can do it.

O, what her teacher taught her, such plenitude,

and that which is pressed into roots and long

heavy, twisted trunks: she sings, she sings!

I like very much how Rilke compares winter to a strict teacher. On the one hand, the challenges posed by winter are acknowledged. It would not be too far-fetched to still imagine winter as reserved and quiet, someone with difficult demands. An unprepared student has legitimate reasons to worry. But, as winter is a teacher, one can learn from it. Spring then becomes a prize for those who make it through winter. So for all of us who survived winter: all the beautiful flowers and the poetry they bring are for us to enjoy and celebrate.

What about you? What is your favorite poem or story about spring and why?



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