Some described chance encounters with birds and animals beginning to chirrup and scurry as the days lengthened and warmed; others focused on feelings of relief, hope and lingering melancholy after a long and challenging winter.
The observations, thoughts and sentiments of members of the public who were invited to contribute to a crowdsourced poem celebrating the coming of spring 2021 have been weaved together into a new poem by the nature writer Elizabeth-Jane Burnett.
Burnett took the 400 voices and created a poem called Spring, An Inventory, which she sees as an optimistic riposte to the grim statistics – deaths, Covid-19 cases, hospital admissions – that have been such a feature of the past 12 months.
The National Trust and the Arts and Humanities Research Council asked people to send in their contributions to the poem on the first weekend of spring – 20 and 21 March.
Burnett was struck by the number of times certain sights, sounds and feelings cropped up and so was inspired to turn her poem into a sort of list – “fifty-one blossoms on the cherry swell … Fifty-four hopes in the hardwood held.”
“It was a privilege to share in so many people’s experience of spring in this way,” Burnett said. “I chose the form of an inventory for the poem as a way of mapping common themes across submissions and presenting a more hopeful tally of numbers than we have been used to seeing in the past year – in fact, the word hope itself recurred 54 times.”
Young and old took part, sharing observations from their gardens, local fields and woods or simply through their windows.
Some expressed pure optimism. Margaret Anderson wrote: “An incredible surge of hope and happiness wells up into my heart which almost hurts. Spring is full of promise.”
Sarah Hawkins saw profundity in the sight of a shy robin. “I hushed my breath and willed it to stay, Just going about as it may. For I felt it comforting to share, To coexist together there.” Josephine Corcoran wrote simply: “Spring arrives like an exhaled breath.”
Jess Rippengale hinted at the mixed feelings many people are still experiencing in her contribution: “A week of walking” – “Day 1. I mistake the sky reflected in drops of water for blossom buds on the end of a twig. Too soon for spring. Day 7. I mistake blossom buds on the end of a twig for drops of water. A pessimistic elongation of winter.”
Caitlin Phillips was one of those who was observing nature from her home and wondered if more heartache was to come: “I’ve been here before … Through my window, under the gnarled and barren fig, I observe a cluster of primroses nestling together. Like ducklings without the mother duck … Is this the prelude to a new beginning, I wonder, or just part of a repeating cycle?”
Even babes in arms got involved. Amy Gallacher sent in a contribution from her 20-month-old daughter, Naomi, that she believed summed up spring just perfectly: “Birds, more birds!”
An extract from Spring, An Inventory by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett
Fifty-four hopes in the hardwood held,
slow, the hour brightens
through damp roots and fused shoots the pressure wells,
fifty-one blossoms on the cherry swell,
tiny beech leaves ripen.
Fifty-four hopes in the hardwood held
slow, the hour brightens.
Forty-four trees in the waking woods,
forty-one spilling gardens.
Five cherry trees where the blackbirds stood,
thirty-five joys through their gleaming broods,
thirty-eight buds nectar-guarding
in forty-four trees in the waking woods,
in forty-one spilling gardens.