James Stephens, ‘Spring 1916’ (from Green Branches, 1916)

Source: Macmillan Edns. in London and NY (1916 & 1917) with a difference in page-design being unnumbered in the American edition and printed on one side only of 32 leaves. The collection originally contained three poems - “Autumn 1915”, “Spring 1916”, “Joy Be With Us”. The third was added to the second in the Collected Poems (1954). The present text is taken from Poetry Nook - online - citing no edition but clearly following the 1954 plan - accessed 24.10.2020].

Spring 1916  



Do not forget my charge, I beg of you;
That of what flowers you find, of fairest hue
And sweetest odour, you do gather those
Are best of all the best —

A fragrant rose;
A tall calm lily from the waterside;
A half-blown poppy, hanging at the side
Its head of dream,
Dreaming among the corn;
Forget-me-nots, that seem
As though the morn
Had tumbled down, and grew into the clay;
And buds that sway,

And swing along the way,
Easing the hearts of those who pass them by
Until they find contentment —

Do not cry!
But gather buds! And, with them, greenery
Of slender branches taken from a tree
Well bannered by the Spring that saw them fall:

And you, for you are cleverest of all,
Who have slim fingers and are pitiful!
Brimming your lap with bloom that you may cull,
Will sit apart, and weave for every head
A garland of the flowers you gathered.


Be green upon their graves, O happy Spring!
For they were young and eager who are dead!
Of all things that are young, and quivering
With eager life, be they remembered!
They move not here! They have gone to the clay!
They cannot die again for liberty!
Be they remembered of their land for aye!
Green be their graves, and green their memory!

Fragrance and beauty come in with the green!
The ragged bushes put on sweet attire!
The birds forget how chill these airs have been!
The clouds bloom out again in limpid fire!
Blue dawns the day! Blue calm lies on the lake,
And merry sounds are fitful in the thorn!
In covert green the young blackbirds awake;
They shake their wings, and sing upon the morn.

At springing of the year you came and swung
Green flags above the newly-greening earth;
Scarce were the leaves unfolded, they were young,
Nor had outgrown the wrinkles of their birth:
Comrades they thought you of their pleasant hour,
Who had but glimpsed the sun when they saw you!
Who heard your song ere birds had singing power,
And drank your blood ere they drank of the dew.

Then you went down! And then, and as in pain,
The Spring, affrighted, fled her leafy ways!
The clouds came to the earth in gusty rain!
And no sun shone again for many days!
And day by day they told that one was dead!
And day by day the season mourned for you!
Until that count of woe was finished,
And Spring remembered all was yet to do!

She came with mirth of wind and eager leaf;
With scampering feet and reaching out of wings;
She laughed among the boughs and banished grief,
And cared again for all her baby things:
Leading along the joy that has to be!
Bidding her timid buds think on the May!
And told, that Summer comes — with victory!
And told the hope that is all creatures’ stay.

Go Winter now unto your own abode,
Your time is done, and Spring is conqueror!
Lift up with all your gear and take your road!
For she is here, and brings the sun with her!
Now are we born again, and now are we,
— Wintered so long beneath an icy hand! —
New-risen into life and liberty,
Because the Spring is come into our land!


In other lands they may,
With public joy or dole along the way,
With pomp, and pageantry, and loud lament

Of drums and trumpets; or with merriment
Of grateful hearts, lead into rest and sted
The nation’s dead.

If we had drums and trumpets! If we had
Aught of heroic pitch, or accent glad,
To honour you — as bids tradition old —

With banners flung, or draped in mournful fold,
And pacing cortege! These should we not bring
For your last journeying!

We have no drums or trumpets! Naught have we,
But some green branches taken from a tree,
And flowers that grow at large in mead and vale!

Nothing of choice have we! Nor of avail
To do you honour, as our honour deems,
And as your worth beseems!

Wait drums and trumpets, yet a little time!
All ends, and all begins! And there is chime
At last where discord was! And joy, at last,

Where woe wept out her eyes! Be not downcast!
Here is prosperity and goodly cheer,
For life does follow death! And death is here!


Joy be with us, and honour close the tale!
Now do we dip the prow, and shake the sail,
And take the wind, and bid adieu to rest!

With gladness now we re-begin the quest
That destiny commands! Though where we go
Or guided by what star, no man doth know!

Unchartered is our course! Our hearts untried!
And we may weary ere we take the tide,
Or make fair haven from the moaning sea.

Be ye propitious, winds of destiny!
On us at first blow not too boisterous bold!
All Ireland hath is packed into this hold!

Her hopes fly at the peak! Now, at the dawn,
We sail away — Be with us Mananan!

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