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What is an explanation of "Description of Spring" by Henry Howard, the Earl of...

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saso15 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 23, 2010 at 12:53 PM via web

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What is an explanation of "Description of Spring" by Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey?

DESCRIPTION OF SPRING,

WHEREIN EVERY THING RENEWS, SAVE ONLY THE LOVER.

  THE soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,
  With green hath clad the hill, and eke the vale.
  The nightingale with feathers new she sings ;
  The turtle to her make hath told her tale.
 
Summer is come, for every spray now springs,
  The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
  The buck in brake his winter coat he slings ;
  The fishes flete with new repairèd scale ;
  The adder all her slough away she slings ;
  The swift swallow pursueth the fliës smale ;
  The busy bee her honey now she mings ;
  Winter is worn that was the flowers' bale.

      And thus I see among these pleasant things
      Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs ! (Luminarium.com)

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mstokes | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted January 24, 2010 at 4:24 AM (Answer #1)

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The poem is a sonnet about lost or unrequieted love. The poet look around and sees how everything is beautiful and new, acknowledges this and yet states his sadness in the midst of the beauty and renewal of the world.

The sweet season which is Spring brings with it buds and blooms, the hills and also the valleys are dressed in green. The nightingale sings and the turtledove has told her mate the story of how summer is coming and the sprays of flowers are blooming. The deer has shed his old antlers on the fencepost (picket) and the male deer has shed his old coat by rubbing himself in a thicket of thorns. The fish are fast because they too have new scales and the snake has also shed her winter coat. The swallow is fast as she pursues flies and the bee mixes honey. Winter is past (over) and the flowers have nothing to fear. As I look around me I see only wonderful and pleasant things and yet I am troubled and worried, I am full of sorrow

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted August 5, 2012 at 7:33 PM (Answer #2)

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The explanation of "Description of Spring" [added above] is that it is a love sonnet of unrequited love summed up in the rhyming couplet of lines 13 and 14:

And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs !

The message is that all things are renewed in spring except for the love of his lost beloved.

Surrey, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, lists things in nature that throw off winter's oppression and embrace spring's renewal. Some of these are the buck (deer) and adder (snake), the flower and bee, the nightingale and the hills. He ends by saying that his beloved has not cast off the oppression of winter nor embraced renewal of spring: she still does not like him and still rejects him.

Surrey experimented with Petrachan sonnet form. The structure of this sonnet is 14 lines comprised of one opening quatrain followed by a octet and concluded with a rhyming couplet. The volta is line five. To restate this, the first four lines form a quatrain devoted to the topic of the coming of spring: "The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings". The next eight lines form an octet devoted to the topic of nature's summer changes: "Summer is come, ... / The hart hath hung his old head [antlers] ...." The switch from the first topic to the second occurs at line 5; the switch is called the volta or the "turn." The rhyme scheme is a consistent abab / abababab with an aa couplet.

There are two things to note. The first is that spring in England can be very damp and cold, thus events that some of us from warmer climes associate with spring are delayed until summer itself, for example, "The buck in brake his winter coat he slings ;". The second is that, although Surrey was a contemporary of Shakespeare, Spenser and Sidney, Surrey borrows a gentler form of Chaucer's much earlier Middle English, thus many words need defining as their meanings are obscured. Luminarium.com provides a very useful gloss of these words.

1 [soote] Sweet.
2 [eke] Also.
3 [turtle] turtledove.
4 [make] Mate.
5 [spray] Sprig; spray of flowers.
6 [hart] Deer.
7 [head on the pale] last year's antlers [discarded].
8 [pale] Fencepost; picket.
9 [brake] Bracken; thicket.
10 [flete] Fleet; fast.
11 [smale] Small.
12 [mings] mixes.
13 [worn] Worn out; over.
14 [bale] Bane; destruction.
15 [care] Worry; worrisome thing. (Anniina Jokinen)

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