Poem of the Day: ‘Written in March’ 

The springtime becomes not merely a celebration, but a triumph of life over death, in which the whole world, not merely that one scene, participates.

Via Wikimedia Commons
Benjamin Robert Haydon: 'William Wordsworth,' detail, oil on canvas, 1842. Via Wikimedia Commons

In a journal kept in 1798, when she and her famous brother William lived at Alfoxden, in the Quantock Hills of Somerset, Dorothy Wordsworth (1771–1855) recorded a March day spent, as so often, outdoors, with her brother and their neighbor, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They had, she wrote, “passed the morning in sauntering about the park and gardens, the children playing about, the old man at the top of the hill gathering furze; interesting groups of human creatures, the young frisking and dancing in the sun, the elder quietly drinking in the life and soul of the sun and air.”

William Wordsworth (1770–1850), too, remembered that day. As his “Written in March” makes clear, he observed the same particulars that his sister set down in her account of the day. In fact, the first stanza of his poem — two sets of taut dimeter couplets, with rhymed trimeter in lines five and ten — simply records similar details of life, growth, and energy, in much the same language. In the second stanza, however, the vision opens out onto something larger.

The springtime becomes not merely a celebration, but a triumph of life over death, in which the whole world, not merely that one scene, participates. The poem ends on a line from the Song of Songs, raising the joy of a spring day to a declaration of biblical proportions: the rain is over and gone. The poet has observed and absorbed the same particulars as the diarist, but has caused those particulars to chime with music and shine with meaning. He has made of them not a journal entry, but a poem. 

Written in March 
by William Wordsworth 

The cock is crowing, 
The stream is flowing, 
The small birds twitter, 
The lake doth glitter, 
The green field sleeps in the sun; 
The oldest and youngest 
Are at work with the strongest; 
The cattle are grazing, 
Their heads never raising; 
There are forty feeding like one! 
Like an army defeated 
The snow hath retreated, 
And now doth fare ill 
On the top of the bare hill; 
The plowboy is whooping — anon-anon: 
There’s joy in the mountains; 
There’s life in the fountains; 
Small clouds are sailing, 
Blue sky prevailing; 
The rain is over and gone! 


With “Poem of the Day,” The New York Sun offers a daily portion of verse selected by Joseph Bottum with the help of the North Carolina poet Sally Thomas, the Sun’s associate poetry editor. Tied to the day, or the season, or just individual taste, the poems are drawn from the deep traditions of English verse: the great work of the past, together with the living poets who keep those traditions alive. The goal is always to show that poetry can still serve as a delight to the ear, an instruction to the mind, and a tonic for the soul. 

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