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Poetry Recommendations for Spring in St Andrews

Students snoozing on the grass in St Salvator’s Quad in the weak warmth of March sunlight. Crocuses bravely sprouting in purple fairy circles on the grass by the Purdie Building. Aimless birds delightfully pottering about on Church Street. Here are the makings of a picturesque Scottish spring. It is this humble Arts and Culture writer’s opinion that there is nowhere better to spend these months than in St Andrews. At that, there is no better way to spend a free, solitary spring afternoon than on a bench in St Mary’s Quad with a collection of poetry. Here follows a small selection of masterly yet accessible poets who write about the season, and the themes of renewal, appreciation of nature, and growth, while still being digestible enough to be enjoyed by both casual readers and English Literature students alike.

The work of queer American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) is perfect for the season. Her succinct writing style, combined with glimmers of humour, makes her poetry engrossing. The natural world fills her writings, with poems dedicated to frogs and cats alike. As a gardener and student of botany, Dickinson’s avid interest in flowers and plants also translates into her poetry. Her enthusiastic attitude towards observing the natural world and her unusual perspectives on nature are, I’ve found, particularly infectious; suddenly you’ll be confronting the nature of selfhood in the daffodils by the Lade Braes, and seeing immortality in a West Sands seagull. Perhaps that’s an overstatement; nevertheless, her work certainly inspires a revitalised outlook on nature without falling into the trappings of verbosity. Perfect for springtime reading.

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), however, refuses the typical romance of spring in his five-part modernist poem ‘The Waste Land;’ there is not a more iconic line about April than Eliot’s assertion that it is “the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.” The imagery of water and flowers and the themes of spring and rejuvenation permeate the work. While it is admittedly esoteric, I personally have found there to be something satisfying in trying to decode the poet’s bizarre twists and turns throughout it. More demanding than Dickinson perhaps, but overall a very differently motivated portrayal of spring, and equally as stirring.

While Eliot might have depicted spring ambivalently, E.E. Cummings (1894-1962) seems to do nothing but rejoice in it in his poetry. As a poet, he can be characterised by his free-form style, experimental use of grammar, and idiosyncratic syntax. A great number of his works revolve around or are set in springtime. A personal favourite line reads: “wholly to be a fool / while Spring is in the world.” Here is a sentiment I’d like to carry through the rest of the semester. As the natural world reawakens, Cummings’ poetry seems to revive something in the reader too, looking upon the world with more foolish love.

Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950) combines modernism with traditional form, and so her work is both highly lyrical and vastly readable. Her collection Second April reflects on the beauty of spring and the inherent perishability of all life. In ‘Spring’ she asks: “To what purpose, April, do you return again? / Beauty is not enough.” She imbues her descriptions of wonderful spring with reminders of its fleetingness — a sentiment that we can relate to as we race towards the end of the academic year at an alarming pace. Just as St Andrews blooms into its most beautiful state, we seem to already be on our trains and flights home. It almost makes this time of year even more rewarding. The town becomes more absorbingly lovely knowing that it won’t be long before most of us have to leave it.

Illustration by Sarah Knight

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