“They were but sweet, but figures of delight”: Shakespeare in the Spring

Sonnet 98


“Nothing is so beautiful as spring,” wrote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. He didn’t live in Boston, where spring brings with it almost any weather; this week it’s wall-to-wall rain and gray. So here’s a little dose of Shakespeare in the hope of sunshine and optimal flower-viewing.


Sonnet 98

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
    Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,

    As with your shadow I with these did play.

And as a bonus, here are a few of my favorite lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in

[It gets fairly nasty at this point, alas.]

Have you read any spring poems lately?


17 thoughts on ““They were but sweet, but figures of delight”: Shakespeare in the Spring

  1. We sing the May Song every year on May 1st. My Dad always sang it to us every year, so now I sing it to my kids. And, like we did when my dad sang it to us with gusto, my own kids cringe and act like I’m mortifying them. But, deep down, I know they love it. 🙂
    “Now we know it’s lovely May/ we know that spring is here to stay/ the birds all sing and the children play/ because it’s love-l-y May. /Dance and sing and play all day/ lovely, lovely, lovely, May/ All the world is glad at last/ because it’s love-l-y May!”
    I’ve always been curious who else knows this song? I’ve never heard it anywhere else. Any idea?

  2. My husband was a contributor to a spring anthology of poetry and prose issued earlier this year by the Wildlife Trusts in Britain and edited by Melissa Harrison. It includes this sonnet plus poems by Hardy, Lawrence, Larkin, Hopkins, Chaucer, and Browning.

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