In the greenwood quires the thrush

Spring comes quietly but surely. The days are longer and warmer, the blossoms are profuse. We're not quite out of the chill, and no doubt it will get cold again, perhaps even freezing, between now and summer, but the calendar says spring, so spring it is. Winter now has notice to vacate. I've looked at lots of spring poems but the one that caught me was Robert Louis Stevenson's “A Spring Carol.” It has the requisite gush and flutter of spring delight, the panoply of plants and creatures spring calls up, but it also has a lovely, musy meter. The song of the meadow. Heartsease.

When loud by landside streamlets gush,
And clear in the greenwood quires the thrush,
With sun on the meadows
And songs in the shadows
Comes again to me
The gift of the tongues of the lea,
The gift of the tongues of meadows.

Straightway my olden heart returns
And dances with the dancing burns;
It sings with the sparrows;
To the rain and the (grimy) barrows
Sings my heart aloud -
To the silver-bellied cloud,
To the silver rainy arrows.

It bears the song of the skylark down,
And it hears the singing of the town;
And youth on the highways
And lovers in byways
Follows and sees:
And hearkens the song of the leas
And sings the songs of the highways.

So when the earth is alive with gods,
And the lusty ploughman breaks the sod,
And the grass sings in the meadows,
And the flowers smile in the shadows,
Sits my heart at ease,
Hearing the song of the leas,
Singing the songs of the meadows.

The world is so full of a number of things

"The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."

This couplet from Robert Louis Stevenson is a miracle of succinct and teasing whimsy. On the face of it, it seems like a joyous celebration of the earth's plenitude, a delight in the endless possibility of life. Yet the word should is a shadow on all this exuberant wonder. In spite of the multitude of things, how many of us are happy? Including, of course, the kings themselves. Perhaps the point is the ironic self-defeat of materialism, the inevitability of what the economists call scarcity: the number of things that exist is always lower than the number required to satisfy human desire. If I was going to scrawl anything across the nursery wall in large curly letters it would be this, but perhaps I would thus condemn my children to a slow and numbing realisation of the real scarcity of happiness.