Monday, April 29, 2019

Spring in War-Time

Throughout the First World War, the coming of spring brought with it the renewal of military offensive action.*  In 1915, American poet Sara Teasdale exposed the incongruity of resuming the killing during earth’s season of growth and rebirth. 

Spring in War-Time

Thou Shalt Not Steal, John Singer Sargent
© IWM (Art. IWM ART 1609)
I feel the spring far off, far off,
      The faint, far scent of bud and leaf—

Oh how can spring take heart to come
      To a world in grief,
      Deep grief?

The sun turns north, the days grow long,
      Later the evening star grows bright—

How can the daylight linger on
      For men to fight,

      Still fight?

The grass is waking in the ground,
      Soon it will rise and blow in waves—

How can it have the heart to sway
      Over the graves,
      New graves?

Under the boughs where lovers walked
      The apple-blooms will shed their breath—

But what of all the lovers now
      Parted by death,

      Gray Death?
            —Sara Teasdale, 1915 Rivers to the Sea

The poem contrasts lovers and graves, apple-blossoms and the grayness of death, underscoring  the terrible irony of war-time spring offensives with the abbreviated, truncated lines that conclude each stanza. In the spring of 1917, as America prepared to enter the war, Teasdale wrote to her sister-in-law, “The feeling here is growing more and more acrid all the time.” Commenting on public displays that supported the war, she continued,
How much of this is bona fide patriotism, I don’t know. It makes me heart-sick for it represents such terrible loads of sorrow to be borne later when our men are maimed and killed by the thousands.  It is staggering when one thinks of the four thousand years of so-called civilization on this planet—that it culminates now in the most brutal and tremendous bloodshed that the world has ever seen.*
* For an example of a poem that celebrates war in springtime, see Rawnsley’s “Going to the Front,” which begins,
      I had no heart to march for war
      When trees were bare and fell the snow;
      To go to-day is easier far
      When pink and white the orchards blow…

Teasdale's poem "There Will Come Soft Rains" (1920) can also be found on this blog. 
**Qtd. in William Drake, Sara Teasdale, Woman and Poet, U of Tennesee Press, 1989, p. 169.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.