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

Henry Howard's "Description of Spring" highlights the dejected misery of the speaker's state of unrequited love by contrasting it with the beauty, energy, and new life of the spring season.

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In Sonnet 7, or "Description of Spring," Howard acknowledges the arrival of summer while at the same time recognizing that it makes his sorrows all the more poignant as they are surrounded by the joys of nature.

The season may be "soote" or sweet; it may bring forth new life into the world. But it also has the unfortunate effect of giving life to the speaker's sorrows. And so there's a sense of irony about the description of summer as the "soote season."

All the other creatures undergo something of a transformation at this time of year. The hart gets rid of his old antlers; the buck flings off his winter coat; fish swim with newly-repaired scales. But the speaker can't slough off the deep sadness he feels at the onset of summer.

Every feature of the natural world that was dormant throughout the winter has suddenly sprung into life. But the contrast with the speaker couldn't be greater. He isn't springing into life at all; on the contrary, he's still mired in misery. The landscape may be changing around him, but his heart most certainly isn't. As he looks around him and sees all cares decay amid "these pleasant things," he reflects that still his "sorrow springs."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 13, 2021
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In his sonnet "Description of Spring," Henry Howard contrasts the beauties of spring and summer with his own unhappiness.

Much of the sonnet outlines the energy and new life of the spring/summer season. Renewal comes to the earth with plants blooming and budding. The nightingale has grown new feathers, the deer sheds his winter coat, and the snake, too, sheds his old skin. The animal world jumps into activity. The bee is busy gathering nectar for honey while the swallow goes energetically after flies. All is bustle and new life. But while he sees the winter worries of the plant and animal kingdom disappear, the speaker's own sorrow "springs" to life.

We feel more sharply the poet's misery from unrequited love in these verses because of the contrast with the joyous nature he witnesses. "Everything" renews and revives but him. Pining for a beloved is in a category all its own, isolating the speaker.

The poet uses alliteration, the repetition of words beginning with the same consonant, to build a sense of energy and interior rhythm in this poem. The "turtle" has "told" her "tale," the repetition of the t sounds creating a pleasant cadence. Likewise, we hear alliteration in "every spray now springs" and "hart hath hung his old head." More examples can be found throughout the poem. The last two words of the sonnet are also alliterative: "sorrow springs." Here "springs" plays on the disjunction between the vibrant world of the season of spring and the sorrow that "springs" or leaps and grows in the lover's heart.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 13, 2021
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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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