I am on my way to Oxford, Mississippi where I will be reading on Friday. I’ve never been to Mississippi before, and though all sorts of poems and stories and songs come to mind when I think of Mississippi, because I realize it will be springtime in the South and because I love springtime in the South (the pear trees, the cherries, the forsythia, oh my!), I am thinking, most often, about the poem “My Mississippi Spring.”
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My Mississippi Spring
My heart warms under snow;
flowers with forsythia,
japonica blooms, flowering quince,
bridal wreath, blood root and violet;
yellow running jasmin vine,
cape jessamine and saucer magnolias:
tulip-shaped, scenting lemon musk upon the air.
My Mississippi Spring—
my warm loving heart a-fire
with early greening leaves,
dogwood branches laced against the sky;
wild forest nature paths
heralding Resurrection
over and over again
Easter morning of our living
every Mississippi Spring!
--Margaret Walker
I came to a kind of understanding with the South in the midst of my first Southern spring. For those of you who’ve never experienced a Southern spring, you really ought to find a way to get south of Maryland sometime between March 1 and May 1. Walker’s poem goes a long way toward describing the flowering that happens in the land and the resurrecting quality this flowering can have upon the soul. The title poem of my first book, What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison, stems from the greater understanding I realized about the world and my place in it while marking the progress of a Southern spring. Those leaf buds, bright bark, poetry.
Anne Spencer lived her whole life in the town where I wrote What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. In the poem I’m about the share, Anne Spencer, caught in the rapture of a Virginia spring, pities poor Robert Browning, who’d never experienced the wonders she knew.
Life-Long, Poor Browning
Life-long, poor Browning never knew Virginia,
Or he'd not grieved in Florence for April sallies
Back to English gardens after Euclid's linear:
Clipt yews, Pomander Walks, and preached alleys;
Primroses, prim indeed, in quiet ordered hedges,
Waterways, soberly, sedately enchanneled,
No thin riotous blade even among the sedges,
All the wild country-side tamely impaneled . . .
Dead, now, dear Browning, lives on in heaven,--
(Heaven's Virginia when the year's at its Spring)
He's haunting the byways of wine-aired leaven
And throating the notes of the wildings on wing;
Here canopied reaches of dogwood and hazel,
Beech tree and redbud fine-laced in vines,
Fleet clapping rills by lush fern and basil,
Drain blue hills to lowlands scented with pines . . .
Think you he meets in this tender green sweetness
Shade that was Elizabeth . . . immortal completeness!
-Anne Spencer
I love the playfulness of that poem. And the pride Spencer does nothing to deny. “(Heaven's Virginia when the year's at its Spring).” I love the sheer cockiness of both Walker and Spencer as they talk about their region’s superior springs. Their sentences, overladen with detail and specimens, seem reminiscent of burgeoning flower beds.
There are plenty of great spring poems out there. A lot of them are collected right here on the Poetry Foundation site. I’ve got a number in my personal favorite poems catalog, but these two came to mind given my journey to the Oxford Conference for the Book and my hopes of being greeted by the magnificence of Mississippi in full spring.

Originally Published: March 26th, 2009

Poet and editor Camille T. Dungy was born in Denver but moved often as her father, an academic physician, taught at many different medical schools across the country. She earned a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.   Dungy’s full-length poetry publications include Trophic...

  1. March 28, 2009
     Annie Finch

    What a lovely post, Camille, both visually and poetically. I hope you were greeted by the full magnificence of spring just as you hoped. I was reading in Kansas the same night, and compared to Maine, where spring is measured mostly by the excitement of snow melting at last, the Kansas spring seemed raging, with a big riot of birdsong over a few tentative blossoms. I can only imagine the lushness of Mississippi last Friday–three different versions of spring, and each so dramatic in its own way!
    Thank you enthusiastically for the Spencer poem. It is SUCH a tour-de-force! I love the double-syllable rhymes, one in each stanza, and the athletic lyricism of the alliteration-- I can't think of another poet who puts your tongue and mouth through such paces:
    Here canopied reaches of dogwood and hazel,
    Beech tree and redbud fine-laced in vines,
    Fleet clapping rills by lush fern and basil,
    Drain blue hills to lowlands scented with pines . . .
    Very satisfying.
    Annie

  2. March 30, 2009
     Travis Nichols

    This is a welcome post, Camille. Thank you. When I was seventeen I went down to Georgia for the first time in March, and I nearly lost my mind in the fecundity.