Poetry often inspires me and opens my eyes to everyday things that are in fact extraordinary, but which I just walk by and don’t really look at and truly see. It can express emotions and insights condensed in few words. So, on daily walks in the local countryside during this time of restricted activity, and watching the advance of Spring, I was excited at first to find this delightful poem by the great American poet Robert Frost, first published in 1915:
A Prayer in Spring
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
However, whilst it celebrates the pleasure and joy of Spring, it troubled me on two accounts.
In verse 1, the person praying asks God to “keep us here”, in the moment, and not to think ahead to the “uncertain harvest”. During this sad time of lockdown and social restrictions, those of us who are not self-isolating can enjoy the delights of Spring – God’s creation – but we do not want to be kept here in the present circumstances. Although, in this world the future is always uncertain (for example the likelihood of a safe, effective Covid 19 vaccine being produced this year), we do want to think ahead to the joy of once again seeing and hugging family and friends. Besides, for those who follow Christ the future is certain – His ‘harvest’ is secure.
The second reason for feeling uneasy and troubled by the poem lies in the final verse. This implies that the pleasures and joys of Spring are, in themselves love, and that it is up to God to set them apart as holy and to use them, for some means unspecified. But it also appears to imply that it needs us to recognise God’s purpose, and that achieving it depends on us. However, as Christians we believe that God Himself is love (1 John 4, v7-8, and 16) and that He showed his love for us by sending Jesus, his only son to the world, who laid down His life for us on the cross “as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4, v10). That does not depend on us! However, the only way for God’s “far ends” to be fulfilled is for us to love one another as He has loved us. Then it would be true that “nothing else is love”.
Although in his poems Robert Frost’s personal faith in God seems equivocal, religious commentators who met with him considered that he was deeply spiritual, and that he thought profoundly about theological matters, and the relations between human beings and God. He described himself as “an orthodox Old Testament, original Christian”, and he also said that the meaning of his poem “must be personal with you”. Maybe this is why the poem’s final verse is difficult from a Christian perspective.