On Saturday of the preceding weekend, I noticed a couple of robins skittering across the crusted snow, as I entered a building. That is a sure sign that Spring is on the way, I thought. When I see robins returning after a brief absence, I recall that I made my acting debut in the second or third grade when I played “Robin Redbreast,” with my red sweater and brown paper wings that I flapped vigorously as I ran across the stage proclaiming, “Spring is coming! . . . Spring is coming! . . . Spring is coming!”
A few years ago my daughter, Melissa , sent me a card with the “Easter Legend of the Robin” on the cover:
A little grey robin, as he was flying to the Holy Land, saw Christ hanging on the cross. His heart filled with sadness. He noticed the crown of thorns the soldiers placed on the crucified Savior. The small bird, forgetting his timidity, flew down to remove a thorn from the brow of Christ. As he did so, a drop of Christ’s blood stained the little bird’s breast. The robin, through his act of love, earned the red badge of courage.
From this time forth, all robins have had red breasts as reminder that one of them was kind to the Lord. Thus, the robin is truly the harbinger of spring. He welcomes Easter with his cheerful note of hope, reminding us that from death comes life.
In reflecting upon my acting debut, I composed a new song that I sing when I see robins returning in winter:
Red Robin, Red Robin—Harbinger of Spring,
Rear back with your red breast
And sing, sing, sing.
From the collection of poems that I have written, here are three works, “A Spring Trilogy” written in anticipation of one of my favorite seasons :
So when this corruptible has put on incorruption,
and this mortal has put on immortality,
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death,
where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?
I Corinthians 15:54-55
Whether on earth or shuttled in the sky,
Death snuffs out our candles in devious ways,
For each man must learn to number his days,
Although the soul still probes to fathom why.
The mind made numb with pain can only try
To make sense of the immense ache that stays.
The answer sounds since Adam but still dismays:
It is appointed unto man once to die.
Though grief surrounds us, comfort can be shown.
The sun melts frost with new life as surely
As blossoms will flourish from seeds once sown.
Until Spring, on tip-toe I yearn to see
The day when I shall know as I am known,
When death is swallowed up in victory.
The following poem was also featured in the Groundhog Day piece, offering a reminder that growth takes place even in the severest weather:
Even in Winter
He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
Mournful dark notes of the wind’s contralto solo
Pierce the heart and chill the soul with its somber tones.
Shrouded in widow’s weeds all of creation groans,
Bemoans winter’s wilderness, lifeless and hollow.
Tall stark naked trees where nothing appears to grow
Bend in the wind, vacant lodges closed for the season.
To find life in this dead time seems beyond reason,
Yet tender buds sleep in blankets of ice and snow.
Though leaves once green have faded, fallen to frostbite,
Leaf buds cluster in secret places to keep warm;
Buds wrapped in snow are stronger than before the storm.
Soon the voice of the bridegroom will ring in the night.
The time nears when the turtledove returns to sing,
When ice-covered buds will blossom: firstfruits of spring.
A year ago during a poetry reading in celebration of Black History Month, I read several original works along with poetry by other African American poets who had influenced my writing. I had a similar kind of revelation regarding Winter and Spring, after reciting “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes, resulting in this poem:
Winter is a dream deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Covered in ice,
winter is a dream deferred.
Like frozen vistas
unfolding before us
in the pre-dawn morning chill,
we look up
with our faces toward the rising sun.
Suspended in freeze frame,
dormant hope waits,
as a cold-blooded vertebrate
withdraws to hibernate.
Here death confronts us
and smacks the face.
Though we reel and feel the sting,
we know that someday
ice-covered buds shall blossom
and explode into Spring.
In actuality a dream could be seen as an investment that will someday yield dividends when that dream becomes a reality. In “Autumn Sestina,” a poem celebrating the beauty of another of my favorite seasons, one of the stanzas expresses this idea:
Those who invest precious dreams will be rich
When they look into the gray winter sky.
Those who hold tokens from Fall’s gold leaf day,
Though they long for life in a greener stage,
Even in snow will be warmed by their wealth
And find full return in the Spring’s new gold.
The term “firstfruits” could be used to describe the return on the investments of dreams deferred. References to firstfruits abound in some of my poetry, such as “Even in Winter” and “Accoucheur to Spring.” The term “accoucheur” is the French equivalent of a male “mid-wife” or male attendant at a birthing.
Accoucheur to Spring
For we know that the whole creation groans
and labors with birth pangs together until now.
Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the
Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves,
eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
For years I have yearned to be accoucheur to spring,
To observe, to assist with the birthing process,
The fruitful flowering as part of God’s offspring
That reveals the Father’s deep desire to bless.
As a mother whose hour has come will travail,
Wailing, waiting for the fruit of love to be seen,
So barren land trembles that new life might prevail
To transform the gray terrain to emerald green.
I follow the gardener wherever He takes me
And seek to know His plans and make them my pursuits.
To move beyond tokens to fullness of glory
The Lord of the harvest gathers precious firstfruits.
The whole creation groans–all of heaven and earth
Yearns to experience the wonder of childbirth.
The concept of “firstfruits” I have personalize and internalized in recognizing who I am, as I strive to find my true identity:
Of His own will He brought us forth by the word
of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits
of his creatures.
Transform and then so fashion my visage
To be like Christ, the brightness of your glory.
In your refiner’s fire melt and mold me,
Cast my being in His express image:
As boldface type printed upon the page,
As a new coin minted in your treasure,
Stamped with the essence of your character
To convey the power of your message.
So saturate my spirit, heart, soul and mind,
Every fiber of my being, each pore;
So permeate my presence that I might find
My true calling as Christ’s ambassador.
More than vessel, vehicle, or instrument,
Like Christ, I am firstfruits of God’s intent.
“Firstfruits” is connected to some of the Hebrew feasts of the Bible, such as the “feast of weeks” or “ingathering” or most notably the Feast of Pentecost, discussed in Exodus 23 and elsewhere. The ultimate revelation of firstfruits, however, will occur during the great and final harvest or ingathering after Christ returns, depicted in this poem of anticipation of that reality. “Immortality” was written on my mother’s birthday, three years after her passing:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep,
but we shall all be changed—
52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound,
and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54So when this corruptible has put on incorruption,
and this mortal has put on immortality,
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
I Corinthians 15:51-54
When the dazzling sun of righteousness shall arise
With healing wings to banish all infirmity,
I shall know as I am fully known and my eyes
Shall see the glory of His presence before me,
As the Lord Himself shall wipe away every tear.
The shofar sounds, gathering of firstfruits of His love:
Called, chosen, faithful pioneers on the last frontier,
Who like Christ, set their affection on things above,
Who left behind earthly joys to follow the Lamb.
I stand clothed in the fullness of His righteousness
Before Alpha and Omega, the Great I AM
And drink from the fountain of endless blessedness.
I am changed from mortal to immortality,
Portal to the graceful curve of infinity.
With the arrival of Spring, come an array of flowers that usher in the new season, when we shall see “The First Flower.” This poem was inspired by an experience occurring more than 30 years ago when I noticed that the daffodils were just beginning to bud and open up into vibrant yellow flowers. As I entered the dining hall for lunch, I notice one particular flower was on the verge of opening up. When I returned after about an hour, the one daffodil had blossomed during that brief period of time, reminding me of another Spring that shall likewise occur even more rapidly.
The First Flower
Behold, I tell you a mystery;
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed–
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound,
and the dead will be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.
I Corinthians 15:51-52
As the trumpet,
the first daffodil
heralds the birth of Spring
shall the shofar
sound golden notes
to take us unawares
Despite the harshest winter weather, when seemingly endless ice and snow accumulate and aggrevate, remember the words of Robin Redbreast, and enjoy this magnificent rendering of Steven Curtis Chapman’s exquisite musical composition, a reminder that, indeed,“Spring is coming!