WHITE ON WHITE ON WHITE …

A poem by English poet and Poet Laureate Robert Bridges (1844-1930) — quite a good-looking fellow in his younger years, as you can see.

SPRING GOETH ALL IN WHITE

Spring goeth all in white,
Crowned with milk-white may:
In fleecy flocks of light
O’er heaven the white clouds stray
:

White butterflies in the air;
White daisies prank the ground:
The cherry and hoary pear
Scatter their snow around.

Bridges tells us spring goes all in white. He actually uses “goeth” — the archaic form of “goes” — because he was still in the period when Elizabethan English in verse was considered poetic. He tells us that Spring (let’s capitalize it to personify it) is crowned with milk-white may — that is, with white Hawthorn blossoms.

He says the white clouds stray “in fleecy flocks of light,” likening the white clouds drifting across the sky to a flock of sheep with their white fleeces.

He adds to this the white butterflies fluttering through the air, the tiny white daisies scattered through the grass, and the cherry trees and the hoary (“white” here) pears both in flower that “scatter their snow around” — meaning scattering their white blossoms like snow. We have seen this likening of white cherry blossoms to snow before, in the discussion of A. E. Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now,” which ends with these lines:

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

In his “white on white on white…” description of spring, Bridges details six white things:

  1. Milk-white may. By “may,” he means the may blossoms — the white flowers of the Hawthorn tree (Crataegus monogyna):

2. The white clouds floating in the sky, like a flock of straying sheep:

3. White butterflies fluttering in the air (Pieris species; the photo is of Pieris rapae):


4. White daisies that “prank” — that is, adorn or decorate in a showy way — the ground. He is referring to those tiny English daisies (Bellis perennis) that dot the grass in spring>

5. The blossoming cherry:

6. And the blossoming pear:

The poem is a beautiful study in the whites of spring, giving us a feeling of newness, freshness, purity and light.

3 thoughts on “WHITE ON WHITE ON WHITE …

  1. As another kind of white on white, I offer this, from PushBack (2021):

    Melting, and Other Slips of State

    “How do you get people to protect themselves against
    something they don’t believe in?” and “I don’t think it can be
    killed, but at least we’ve got it stopped—as long as the Arctic
    stays cold.” —from The Blob, a movie in 1958

    How do you get people to protect themselves
    against something they don’t believe in?
    A light’s required to see the Thing
    against background light as the Thing is—
    white on white, Malevich’s hand in it,
    or Malewicz on Malevich, with Stalin’s hand.
    White is the art. Arctic is its abstract grip
    on cold ideals believed in
    so much northern light conceals—
    wedged, bowsprit jammed
    down, a dory tipped and emptied—the scene
    in grating ice, the ship of state.

  2. Robert Bridges’ poem is lovely indeed and your words and photos add to the wonderful feeling of the year being reborn. It is also a poem full of hope for a fresh beginning.

  3. It’s always nice to encounter Robert Bridges in unexpected places. I wrote a bit about him this time last year on my own blog (https://southofwatford.org/2020/04/04/third-thursday-12/) and that was about white too – but the white of winter rather than the white of spring. Maybe Bridges will be become fashionable again one day, but we can always praise him for bringing the genius of Gerard Manley Hopkins to our attention. An enjoyable read, as ever.

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