a Shakespearean spring

Joan Mitchell,  Two Sunflowers (1980)

Joan Mitchell, Two Sunflowers (1980)


Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1.1


Now that buds are on the trees and some blooms have already risen and fallen, days seem impossibly long. Every time the weather gets warm, it feels as though I’m seeing light for the first time.

The noun spring, meaning the season after winter, comes from the verb spring: as in, the time when plants spring forth. In the Romance languages, words like primavera and printemps come from a different linguistic heritage meaning “first time” or “first season”. The onomatopoeia confirms: spring coils behind the teeth, explodes from the lips, rests in the curvature of the tongue.

It is difficult to resist the symbology, nor would it be useful to do so. The sun brings us back to life. The earth offers blessing gifts from the deep. Bird-messengers prepare us for newness.

I went out in early March to trim the bushes and trees around the house. Even in the cold, I was too late for their buds. I saved two white willow branches in a vase in the tea room to watch as they unrolled their tiny leaves. Now they’ve sprouted roots — uncommon for tree clippings, which tend not to propagate in water — as though they cannot resist expanding in every direction.

In Shakespeare’s literature, nature, especially weather, is a powerful portent of unfolding drama. Witches enter to thunder and lightning. Romeo and Juliet rendezvous in “summer’s ripening breath” (2.2). Water flows like blood, or seas of change. The author knows the profound effect of our surroundings on our spirits.

Philip Glass, whose fifth String Quartet has always sounded like spring to me, has said that writing music is about listening. Like an underground river, he says, music is always there, available to those who listen for it.

Around us and inside us, the earth eagerly offers its signs. As the ground sloughs off the last mounds of remaining snow, so do our running noses clear the insulation of winter for our first deep breaths of spring’s fragrance. “Am I not part leaves and vegetable mould myself?” wrote Henry David Thoreau, no doubt while plunging his arm into moist earth.

Mary Oliver, that great seer, said it famously (“Wild Geese”):

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.