Hope Springs

Hope Springs

This week’s theme is Spring, or at least the hope of it.

My first choice is “Spring in the Bronx” whose author is (perhaps advisedly) anonymous, and we then pass on to Geoffrey Chaucer’s “General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” before finishing with William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written in Early Spring”.

Comments (from the original post)

  • Roger Till: Great – Chaucer and Wordsworth, magic.

Poem 151. Spring in the Bronx

I wonder where dem boidies is.

Spring is sprung,
Duh grass is riz
I wonder where dem boidies is.
Duh little boids is on duh wing —
But dat's absoid:
Duh little wing is on duh boid.

I like this little bit of doggerel because it is short and amuses me. It parodies the New York Brooklyn accent and muses on the whereabouts of the birds now that the grass is growing before going on to consider the apparently absurd figure of speech presented by “duh little boids is on duh wing” since in reality “duh little wing is on duh boid”, so that the poem not only lampoons the accent but suggests that speakers having this accent are perhaps rather literal-minded at best if not openly stupid. Possibly the anonymous product of someone like Dorothy Parker or Ogden Nash, the verse betrays a certain snobbishness on the part of its creator.

Comments (from the original post)

  • Roger Till: That’s tricky. An interesting concept with dem woyds.

Poem 152. The General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c1340s—1400)
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

This is the least immediately comprehensible and earliest English poem I have chosen to date. Chaucer was the first poet to be buried in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey but he was also a philosopher, astronomer, civil servant, diplomat and member of parliament.

The poem is written in Middle English but if certain words are rendered in their modern spelling and reorganised slightly, it becomes much easier to comprehend:

Whan Aprille with his showers sweet,
The drought of March has pierced to the root,
And bathed every vein in such liquor
Of which virtue engendered is the flower;
Whan Zephyrus too with his sweet breath
Inspired has in every holt and heath
The tender crops, and the young sun
Has in the Ram his half-course run,
And small fowls make melody,
That sleep all the night with open eye,
So Nature pricks them in their hearts,
Then folk long to go on pilgrimages,
And palmers to seek strange strands,
To far hallows, known in sundry lands;
And specially, from every shire’s end
Of England, to Canterbury they wend,
The holy blissful martyr to seek,
That has helped them when they were sick.

Chaucer celebrates the onset of Spring, when the drought of March is assuaged by the rain of April so that the flowers and crops begin to grow and flourish and small birds sing to attract a mate and observes that not only does the season enliven the natural world, but prompts people to make pilgrimages from “every shires ende of Engelond” to the shrine of “the hooly blisful martir” Thomas Becket at Canterbury to give thanks for miraculous healing they attribute to him. A palmer was a pilgrim who had made (or was making) the arduous journey to the holy places in Palestine.


  • Read about The Canterbury Tales on Wikipedia.
  • Read about the General Prologue on Wikipedia.

Poem 153. Lines Written in Early Spring

And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

William Wordsworth (1770—1850)
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

Wordsworth rhapsodises about the natural world and reflects on the vast difference between such beauty and “what man has made of man”. This poem suggests that he sometimes thought little of the world of men compared with the gifts of nature and it is difficult to contradict him when we think of a glorious March morning when the flowers are beginning to bud and the birds are starting to return and compare that with the behaviour of people and the grimy cities that were such a part of the Victorian industrial age.