The ‘green fires’ of spring

March 20, 2022

Often seen as a metaphor for spiritual metamorphosis, spring brings with it a restoration of belief in the world we inhabit

The ‘green fires’ of spring

Having been touched by the phantom of the pandemic, quite recently, the bloom of spring in my garden, is a welcome reprisal. It is indeed a season of calm, before the tumult and wrath of summer descends upon us. As spring spills over the glad earth, we shed our bearish hoodies and sweatshirts for lighter garments and lighter thoughts – for winter can move one to brood. Influential British author, DH Lawrence, treats spring like a wilding-churning havoc and flame from the soil. His own spirit, however, is ‘lost’ and ‘buffeted’ in the fresh throngs of people out in Nature, and he seems to huddle away from the too-vivid, almost flammable nature of the season. Lawrence’s poem, like all his writings, is a departure from most poetry on spring, for he places himself and his spirit, apart, from the overwhelming bustle and the ‘green fires’ of spring.

“I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration/ Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze/ Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,/ Faces of people streaming across my gaze./ And I, what fountain of fire am I among/ This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed/ About like a shadow buffeted in the throng/ Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost”

From The Enkindled Spring by DH Lawrence

Emily Dickinson, the legendary American poet, is of a different view altogether. She sees in spring – its most beautiful attribute; light. Dickinson consistently venerates Nature in her oeuvre. She is also acutely aware of death, yet it is this very bewitching quality of attention that illuminates all her subjects. In the following poem, Dickinson uses spring as a metaphor for spiritual metamorphosis. For Dickinson, spring is a forgiving and extraordinary entity; one whose piercing light, human nature can feel but not explain.

“A Light exists in Spring/ Not present on the Year/ At any other period –/ When March is scarcely here/ A Colour stands abroad/ On Solitary Fields/ That Science cannot overtake/ But Human Nature feels…”

– From A Light Exists in Spring by Emily Dickinson

Persian poet, theologian, and mystic, Rumi, transforms all he looks upon, for he sees through the eyes of an ecstatic, continually loving, continually besotted. Here in his poem for the Persian festival of Nowruz, a celebration of spring, he likens ‘tender words’ spoken to his beloved to ‘rain’ that bursts upon the earth, washing everything anew. For Rumi, these tender words of love regenerate and replenish the earth, where birds swoop and chorus in the sky and sing of freedom. Yet, Rumi can discern that even in their dance of freedom; the birds “fall” and are tested by their love of being. There is a bitter-sweetness to this verse and it elicits a winsome pang by its end. Spring is love, Rumi seems to say, but it is also a hard-earned awakening and an opportunity to grow some wings.

“Tender words we spoke/ to one another/ are sealed/ in the secret vaults of heaven./ One day like rain,/ they will fall to earth/ and grow green/ all over the world./ The way of love is not a subtle argument./ The door there is devastation./ Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom./ How do they learn it?/ They fall, and falling, they’re given wings”

– From Tender Words by Rumi- translated by Coleman Barks

For the great sufi poet, Hafiz, Spring is a time of abundance. It is also a time to abandon worldly concerns. In his poem, below, he urges his readers to surrender themselves to the resplendent sun of spring and become an intercessor for divine worship. For him spring is the divine at its warmest pitch, it is a time for divine artistry to inscribe bold strokes of joy on the heart of its worshipper, it is a time for both atonement and celebration. Spring for Hafiz, is a time where human and mystical love join and proliferate.

“You need to become a pen/ In the sun’s hand./ We need for the earth to sing/ Through our pores and eyes./ The body will again become restless/ Until your soul paints all its beauty/ Upon the sky./ Don’t tell me, dear ones,/ That what Hafiz says is not true,/ For when the heart tastes its glorious destiny/ And you awake to our constant need/ for your love/ God’s lute will beg/ For your hands”

– From The Lute Will Beg by Hafiz

In Ernest Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir, A Moveable Feast, he writes of his time in 1920’s inter-war France. This was a time where he associated with many key expatriate literary figures of the time, a gaggle of whom were given the sobriquet, the Lost Generation by Gertrude Stein (who was their patroness in a multitude of ways). In an excerpt from the book below, we see how Hemingway sets the disorientation of the war’s survivors against the bated energy of spring. Hemingway’s yearning is a boyish, keening hope for spring. For him, every minute of spring that was lost or pummelled away by cold winds, was like a human life defeated; robbed of its lustre and gusto. Hemingway’s longing for spring, then, is much like the longing for life, itself. Like all of us, Hemingway hopes that spring will bring with it a restoration of belief in the world we inhabit, it will set the frozen rivers flowing again, it will bring cheer to disconsolate winter streets, and most importantly, it will not let us down.

“With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life. This was the only truly sad time in Paris because it was unnatural. You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.

“In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.”

– From A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

-The writer is a senior contributing editor at The Aleph Review and a columnist at Libas Now

The ‘green fires’ of spring