“Nor would the stress
Of life be bearable for tender things
Did not so long a respite come between
The cold and heat, and heaven’s indulgence grant
This comfort to the world.”
Virgil, Georgics II
I must be a tender thing. I cannot picture bearing the stress of life without spring.
But at issue here is much more than stress relief.
G.M. Hopkins writes: “Nothing is so beautiful as spring— When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush… What is all this juice and all this joy?” Virgil finds in spring an obvious fruit of heavenly indulgence: this life-giving stretch of warmth, light, and green, wedged between the cold of winter and the heat of summer. It can be felt and seen, smelled and heard, when we walk out the door on an April morning. It breathes new life into us, as it does into field and wood, inspiring us to take up the proverbial hoe and apply it to the rows of our life.
Yet perhaps the more ultimate gift of spring is the assurance it conveys of an all-encompassing benevolence. As Virgil himself seems to suggest, how can spring be anything but the fruit of a fatherly indulgence? An indulgence wherein spring itself is part of a larger plan, where what was conceived in winter, waxes strong in spring, but bears fruit only later.
Perhaps if I truly respond to the gift that is spring—by seeing it for what it is, and then taking up my hoe, I like a tender shoot will grow strong: capable not only of bearing stress, but of bearing fruit, with joy, when it is no longer spring.
Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.
Photo: This was a remarkable spring rainbow in the Shenandoah Valley, seen from the front porch of our home. A wild dogwood, the state tree of Virginia, is blooming in the foreground.