“Spring: Blank Verse”
“Spring: Blank Verse”.
Contained along with “Wales”in a May 1827 letter to his father (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 158); also contained in MS III (pp. 63–65[a]), a Red Book devoted primarily to “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 2. “Spring: Blank Verse” is the fourth poem in MS IIIʼs “Poetry Discriptive”.
On 28 April 1827, Margaret announced to John James that “John has sent you his first written letter”. By written, she may have meant his first letter in his own hand as opposed to her transcription (an example of the latter being a letter dated 15 March 1823 from both John and Margaret to John James, which is written entirely in Margaretʼs hand, and which is the only extant epistle by Ruskin prior to May 1827, putting aside his presentation copies of poems). Margaret may also—or instead—have meant by the term written to refer to Ruskinʼs first letter in cursive hand, as opposed to printing. As she goes on to remark, “I believe the showing you his writing occupied his thoughts fully more than how he expressed his feelings so you must excuse that”. Van Akin Burd notates this “written” letter as “unidentified”, but it seems probable that Margaret was referring to Ruskinʼs letter of May 1827 (containing “Wales” and “Spring”), which Burd prints following Margaretʼs of 28 April 1827. Ruskin wrote this letter in an awkward cursive script—mostly in pencil, except for a postscript in ink. In this letter, he was also using pen and ink for the first time, which Margaret says that he was “much delighted at being able to use”. He copied the two poems, unlike the text of the letter, entirely in ink, although in a print, not cursive hand (see Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 156, 127–28, 157 n. 4).
Facsimile and transcript by permission of John Ruskin Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
May 1827 or possibly somewhat earlier. Evidence is contradictory in determining which is the earlier of the two pairs of “Wales” and “Spring”—the May 1827 version or the MS III version. The greater assurance with which Ruskin appears to handle a pen and ink, along with the suggestiveness of some variants, points to MS III as the later version: e.g., in line 8 of “Wales”, a possibly overwritten alteration in punctuation in the May 1827 version is confirmed in MS III, indicating the latter as the secondary version. Similarly, in “Spring”, an addition above line 1 in May 1827 is duly incorporated into MS III, and the that version contains a new phrase at line 14, which is not present in May 1827. At the same time, the MS III version is uncharacteristically marred by grammatical and spelling errors that do not appear in the May 1827 version. It is unlike Ruskin to introduce errors in a subsequent copy. (See the glosses attached to the two transcriptions).
Oddest of all is Ruskinʼs employment of the term nectron in MS III, an unusual form as compared with the more familiar nectarine used in the May 1827 version. Complicating this word choice, in May 1827 also contains one occurrence of nectron, which Ruskin scores through and replaces with nectarine. It seems equally plausible, therefore, to treat May 1827 as a later version that corrects word choice and grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors found in MS III. Or perhaps the two versions are independent copies deriving from a third, prior version, now lost.
See also System of Date Citation.
Composition and Publication
The MS III version has not been previously published.
For the provenance and publication history of the May 1827 version, see “Wales”: Composition and Publication. This version, like that of “Wales”, published with entirety of Ruskinʼs letter, in “Letters of John Ruskin”, volumes 93–94 (1904) of the Atlantic Monthly (“Letters of John Ruskin,” ed. Norton, 94:164). Simultaneously, the 1827 letter and Ruskinʼs covering February 1869 note presenting the letter to Charles Eliot Norton appeared in Norton, ed., Letters of John Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton, 1:197–98. Published also in Ruskin, Works, 36:2; and re‐edited using original punctuation in Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 158.
For the 1827 family tour to Wales and Scotland, on which Ruskin was pining to set forth in May, but which was delayed by his fatherʼs protracted business travel, see “Wales”: Discussion and Tours of 1826–27.
With its arcane naming of nectarine as nectron, and its attention to exotic species such as the Kerria japonica from China (see glosses to the poem), “Spring: Blank Verse” reflects the romance that empire imparted to British botany of the long nineteenth century. This exoticism is reflected also in the contemporaneous travel narrative in “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 2, in which the travelers visit a friend who shows off “the mimosa the papyrus and the coffee tree”—a visit to a hothouse of tropical plants, whether true or imagined.