Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Countée Cullen in “To John Keats, Poet. At Spring Time” speaks to Keats as if he were alive. For Cullen, Keats’s response to the beauty of spring cannot be extinguished or suppressed, even in death. Keats is the author who is most sensitive to beauty, and as Cullen beholds the magnificent spring of 1924, he cannot stifle his feeling that the spirit of Keats is coexistent with the grandeur of the season.
Spring arrives with a “tocsin call,” and blossoms are so abundant that they seem to envelop the “breast” of spring with “drifts of snow.” The dormancy of winter is at an end: white birds flit about the “shoulders” of spring and “kiss her cheeks.” Lilacs bloom and contribute to the scene with fragrance and varied colors.
The resurgence of life in spring makes Cullen sense the resurgence of Keats’s voice. True, Keats lies as dust in his grave, but for Cullen, Keats’s spirit runs with the sap in maple trees and makes music in the leaves, just as the wind blowing through the strings of an Aeolian harp makes wondrous sound. For Cullen, the call of spring is so strong that Keats, the great dead poet, renews his life.
In contrast to Cullen, others cannot sense the vibrant spirit of Keats. When Cullen bows his head in reverence to Keats’s “full insistent cry,” others find that Cullen’s behavior is “strange” and believe that an ecstasy prompted by the simple arrival of a new season is an unwarranted response, perhaps even a sign of insanity. However, these observers lack the privilege of Cullen, who not only savors spring’s gorgeous arrival, but also delights in the vibrant company of Keats.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cullen, Countée. My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countée Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance. Edited by Gerald Early. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.
Fetrow, Fred M. “Cullen’s ’Yet Do I Marvel.’” Explicator 56, no. 2 (Winter, 1998): 103-106.
Goldweber, David E. “Cullen, Keats, and the Privileged Liar.” Papers on Language and Literature 38, no. 1 (Winter, 2002): 29-49.
Lomax, Michael L. “Countée Cullen: A Key to the Puzzle.” In The Harlem Renaissance Re-examined, edited by Victor A. Kramer. New York: AMS Press, 1987.
Powers, Peter. “’The Singing Man Who Must Be Reckoned With’: Private Desire and Public Responsibility in the Poetry of Countée Cullen.” African American Review 34, no. 4 (Winter, 2000): 661-679.
Shucard, Alan R. Countée Cullen. Boston: Twayne, 1984.
Turner, Darwin T. “Countée Cullen: The Lost Ariel.” In In a Minor Chord: Three African American Writers and Their Search for Identity. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971.