From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play:
The poet’s lament over his separation from the beloved continues. Everything else is enjoying springtime and rebirth, but he alone is locked in hideous winter. All the occurrences of Spring remind him of the youth, for the beauties of the seasons are based on the youth’s beauty and derive from him. Therefore the poet only toys absent-mindedly with these manifestations of beauty, for he desires the real thing, the pattern of all beauty, and that is, in Platonic ideology, the beloved youth who is the form that inspires and creates everything that lives and grows.
SB (p.319) suggests a link between lines 1-5 and Chaucer’s introduction to The Canterbury Tales, lines 1-11, which I give below.
Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droghte of March hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eke with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen all the night with open eye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages)
shoures sote = sweet showers; droghte = drought; perced = pierced; swich licour = such liquid; vertu = life giving force; flour = flower; Zephirus = the West wind; eke = also; inspired hath = has breathed into; holt = woodland; yonge sonne = young sun; Hath in the Ram etc. = has travelled half way through the zodiacal sign of the Ram (Aries) fowles = birds; So priketh hem nature = For nature stimulates them (to sing); in hir corages = in their hearts.