We've had so many glorious days already this spring, my bike has gotten as much use as my ancient knees will allow, and I can hardly contain my joy in heading to the cottage for the first time this weekend. My husband says I'm like a bird: I start nesting every spring, wanting to decorate and redecorate everything in sight.
This year we're going to put new columns and porch railings on our house here in Traverse City, and in my mind, I've already started in at the lake. It's a small thing — to start with. I want new hardware on the cabinets in our little cottage. When we get there, I'll think of all the other things we can do.
So I am right there with Billy Collins, who gets so exuberant about spring that he comes up with a whole list. Exuberance-plus-lists must make him think of Walt Whitman's wildly exuberant "Leaves of Grass," although he doesn't directly quote it in his poem. "Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs" is the way Whitman says it. This is the way influence works. You read one poem and something in it sticks in your mind. Then when you sit to write, that image dislodges itself and lands on your own page.
One way the speaker in this poem makes us feel his excitement is to hold off from completing his thought until the very end. We're suspended throughout the entire poem.
Which makes the hammer-blow even more startling. We've been holding our breath to get to the end. We're those little people in the snowy glass bubble — the paperweight — who've been held all winter and then bam! we're released, squinting (so you know the sun's bright) into the larger dome of the sky.
Again, Collins' mind has been reaching back as he writes this simple poem. The image of Adam and Eve walking out of the garden hand-in-hand, as Milton pictures them at the end of "Paradise Lost," is coming to his mind: "They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way."
How do I know this? I don't, of course, but in the poem there's an enclosed garden like a bubble, and they're suddenly released from it. And the way we choose to say things is strongly influenced by what we've heard and read. There's nothing new under the sun. (That expression, by the way, is from Ecclesiastes.) Those of us, like Collins, who are big readers, hear those echoes in our heads as we write.
Whitman, Milton, our entire grand history of language, I fervently hope, get to have their spring over and over again.
Fleda Brown is professor emerita, University of Delaware, and past poet laureate of Delaware. For more of her work, and to see her new website, go to www.fledabrown.com.