21 March 2019

spring equinox

There is a short poem by one of the Romantic German poets that to my mind is all about this day. Spring equinox. The first day of spring.

(The Romantic era in Europe was at its peak during the first half of the 19th century. It was all about emotions and passion and expressing one's feelings, while remaining very male and suffering for it - think Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther.)

Anyway, the poem. It's by Eduard Mörike, who started out as a young suffering artist, all the heart ache of a poet and a musician with passion and feeling, briefly became a Lutheran pastor and eventually had a career as a respected professor of literature. I must admit, I don't know much else about him despite my attempts efforts at German literature. He is not well known these days anyway.
But this one poem, almost everybody knows some of it. Nine short lines. My parent's generation learnt it by heart, my generation did it for fun. I remember the day when my third grade teacher read it to the class on that first day of spring and how later, during recess, we were reciting it in dramatic or whimsical voices, giggling even. I also remember that it was a cold and rainy day, that the wheels of my bicycle had skidded on the mucky field track we used as a shortcut to school and that as a result, my shoes were filthy. I remember thinking, how can this mucky, wet day be the first day of spring. I was nine years old.

There are a couple of weird and wondrous translations online, I opt for this one by an anonymous source (the German original is here):

Spring's blue ribbon
flutters through the air again.
Sweet familiar scents
drift over the countryside, full of promise.

Violets are already dreaming
of their time to come.
Listen - the  soft sound of a distant harp.
It must be you, spring.
It is you I have heard.

Some years ago, on the first day of spring, a friend working at the local whole food co-op draped a silky blue ribbon over the front doors. Just a ribbon that fluttered ever so slightly when the doors opened. And every time someone stopped and mumbled or quoted or spoke or sang at least the first line of that poem, she discretely put a tick on a tally list. But only for the first hour. Because literally everybody who walked into the shop that day did that, some unconsciously, almost automatically, but mostly with a smile.

That's school for you. Powerful romantic stuff they teach you there.  And that poem, it's still on the curriculum, I checked.


  1. We used to grumble about having to memorize poetry in school. But now, decades later, I'm so grateful when daffodils bring a line from Wordsworth to mind, or something triggers a line from Kubla Khan, or 'lake water lapping' reminds me that reams of Yeats' poems live in my head. Funny thing though - I had to work much harder to memorize those words while the words of sixties pop songs just seeped their way in there to live forever, with no effort at all on my part! It's lovely that everyone recognizes immediately what that blue ribbon on the door represents! a line from

  2. How beautiful-:'spring's blue ribbon...'

    My magnolias are blooming too.

  3. I worry, perhaps I shouldn't. In going ga-ga about Spring we imply that Winter is (or was) unbearable. But Winter represents a quarter of a whole year. Can we casually write it off as something simply to be endured? When I was younger I skied in Winter, preferring snow slopes to crocuses. I saw Winter as cosy and a time for reading. Misguidedly, no doubt, I saw Winter as gemütlich and you're going to tell me I am indeed misguided. But poets have also written enthusiastically about November to March. Here's Charles Kingsley:

    WELCOME, wild North-easter!
    Shame it is to see
    Odes to every zephyr;
    Ne’er a verse to thee.
    Welcome, black North-easter!
    O’er the German foam;
    O’er the Danish moorlands,
    From thy frozen home.
    Tired we are of summer,

    etc, etc.

    Good Winter music? The trumpets that open Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

  4. Wow! And I am not familiar with that poem at all. But it is lovely. Thank you for the image of the blue ribbon and the dreaming violets.

  5. I haven't ever read this poem before. It's so beautiful. I keep a folder of inspiring words called "Saved Gems." I will add this poem to it. Thank you thank you.

  6. How interesting! I do not know this poem. When I studied German in high school a million years ago we were given a choice of some poems to learn, but I don't recall this one. I wonder if it was on the list?

  7. We have awhile to wait for our first flowers but the snow is rapidly melting and small rivers forming as it runs off.

    I used to hate poetry because I didn't understand it. I've given up on understanding and now just feel it which is much more satisfying to me.

    Thank you for the lovely photos. They remind me of Vancouver and visiting my daughter.

  8. sort of had to chuckle about the violets dreaming of their time to come. the woodland violets are so hardy here that they are downright invasive. I'm almost ashamed to tell you how many I have pulled out of the flower beds the past week. never fear though, they are profuse in the lawn where they can grow and spread to their heart's content.