A Writerly Spring: The Season In Literature

by E.A. (Eleanor Anne) Colquitt
Taylor Magazine Minimalist guide to life

Spring has bounced (ahem) into our lives. It’s the season where the world pops up again, refreshed after winter. Even Taylor Magazine, too, was reborn; our lovely new-look website fits with the times better than ever. But, as usual, it got me thinking about books. Just what do us writers do with the season?

Spring the surprise

Characteristic feelings of hope, liveliness and (re-)birth provide the perfect ingredients for contributing to the endless world of poetry. This simple joy is captured perfectly in the short rhymes of ‘Spring’, by William Blake. ‘Birds delight, | Day and night’, ‘Little lamb, | Here I am’… plus a couple of small children. It’s a really sweet little image, a perfect fit in his Songs of Innocence.

Not all poems are as happy as this one, though. But the most interesting thing is that sadness pops up even in the poems that are all about how wonderful spring is. Sure, Wordsworth’s fallen in love with those daffodils, but he still started off as a ‘lonely’ wanderer. And Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 98’ only focuses on the world’s ‘spirit of youth’ so the speaker can emphasise how much they miss their absent partner.

This trend has continued with modern poetry. Let’s have a look at Amy Gerstler’s ‘In Perpetual Spring’ (yes! No more dead Williams!). This poem’s more like Blake’s, ending in hope, but it’s much less cutesy. (I don’t blame her, really – too much of that would get a bit revolting.) Gerstler balances this positive view of spring with a more menacing sense of the natural world. This results in a mystical tone throughout, giving us a new sense of wonder. Wow.

‘It was one of those March days where the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.’ ~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

A similar feeling of admiration happens when prose gets something so… right. No matter how old a book is, if there’s a certain phrase that speaks somewhere to someone, the whole thing’s sure to stand the test of time. Usually, this happens more with deep, profound topics than anything else, but one of my absolute favourite examples is a bit of mundane description: Dickens-as-Pip’s above astute observation about March. It’s still true. We’ve just finished the month, so we all know the pain. You set off outside on a sunny morning, needing your winter layers; by lunch, you’re glaring at your coat, now dumped over an arm because it’s too warm to wear. Ugh…

But this is also what we love about spring. It’s that balance again, this time in a Goldilocks way: not freezing, but not hot, either. It helps for plots, too. At this point in Dickens’s novel, the fate of one character could go either way, just as spring balances two seasonal extremes. There are so many stories out there that begin with something happening that’s specifically related to a certain time of the year, which is so useful for writers.

Primavera, printemps, Frühling… however you like to write ‘spring’, the season’s a fantastic one. Days get brighter, colours creep back, and life becomes lively again. We can appreciate the world more, and, whether reflecting emotions or driving the plot, writers use spring’s balance of the good and the not-so-good to emphasise positivity. It’s very exciting – I wonder what new writers will come up with?

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