“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?

Recommended Reading: Bay of Fires, by Poppy Gee

It was this book’s title that led me to pull it off the shelf, as well as the understated cover design. I didn’t realize, at the time, that the Bay of Fires is a real place in Tasmania, a large island off Australia’s southern coast.

Bay of Fires cover

Here’s the setup: Sarah, after some bad decisions, ends up at home for the holidays, unsure what to do next. While she’s thinking it over, she’s one of two people to discover a young woman’s body on the beach, and for the next week, she and a down-on-his-luck reporter try to solve the mystery of the young woman’s disappearance.

Now, before I read Ms. Gee’s novel, I knew nothing about Tasmania, other than that it is an island and the namesake of a small, fierce marsupial creature. But one of this novel’s best features is its strong sense of place; Ms. Gee describes the scrub, the ocean, the rock pools, and the small community on the bay in fresh detail. Often, scenery escapes me, because I’m so focused on characters (with exceptions: Jane Eyre, The Lord of the Rings, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream come to mind). However, I think I was jolted out of my reading habits by the reversed seasons — the novel takes place around Christmas and New Year’s Day, and yet it’s summer.

Equally refreshing is Bay of Fires‘s main character, Sarah Avery. Deeply flawed, she is nonetheless tenacious, strong, and good. You know, a person, not a caricature of womanhood. For awhile, Ms. Gee’s focus on Sarah’s physical strength and fitness annoyed me, until I realized that her fitness is an integral part of her character, and informs many of her decisions over the novel’s course. She’s an original, interesting character, who sometimes reminded me of Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. If you loved Starbuck, you’ll love Sarah.

Here’s my final recommendation: I thought I had the mystery solved on page 107 (of 371), and I kept reading. I was only half right, and the novel kept me guessing til the very end. I’ll be looking for Poppy Gee’s next book.