American poet William Carlos Williams once wrote, “The only universal is the local,” a sensibility reflected in the imagery of many of his best-known poems.
“Spring and All,” the title poem of a collection published in 1923, is an intensely local depiction of the early months of that season, which began, astronomically, last Saturday. Its setting is a road familiar to the poet—“the road to the contagious hospital”—perhaps one near his home in New Jersey where he practiced medicine for most of his life. Though published after the worst of the 1918 flu pandemic, it portrays a bleak landscape that will seem familiar to any New Englander, a “waste of broad, muddy fields/brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen,” “patches of standing water/the scattering of tall trees.” And yet, it’s a bleakness that pulses with hope, as “Lifeless in appearance, sluggish/dazed spring approaches.”
After 12 bleak months of pandemic and physical isolation, the hope of new life is one any Harvard resident can embrace. It’s a good time to step outside and onto one of Harvard’s dozens of conservation trails—and to look for signs of the reawakening and return to normalcy we crave. The hope is universal, but its realization lies just outside our doors.