The Invention of Seasons in
Haji Salleh’s england in the spring
Hardy’s If It’s Ever Spring Again:
A Comparative Study
Mehdi Hassanian esfahani (GS22456)
The Victorian Age (BBL5101)
Lecturer: Dr. Wan Roselezam
Muhammad Haji Salleh (1942 - ) a National Laureate of Malaysia (Sasterawan Negara
Malaysia) is well known for his careful observation of society he lived in, and his poetry is
considered one of the finest, whether written in English or Bahasa Melayu. In this study I will
discuss the invention and usage of seasons (particularly winter and spring) in one of his
poems, england in the spring, to find its significance and I will compare this to a selected
poem by Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928), If It’s Ever Spring Again, and Hardy’s innovation of
seasons in his poetry.
In this way, I observe both poems through formalistic approach, and explain the
imageries. Interpreting its connotations and the role they play in the general atmosphere of
the poem, I will come up with an outline which makes it easy to compare these two. As a
result, the similarity and differences will be analyzed. It is expected, through the influence of
Hardy on Haji Salleh, that both poems follow the same procedure regarding the usage of
seasons, although the theme and situation is different.
Reading poetry of Muhammad Haji Salleh reveals a repeated regular pattern in which seasons
are fully connected to cliché characteristics, and present their connotations. Gloomy winter is
when nature and people stop growing as if there is a heavy burden of frozen air upon the
world; sun has left and sky is dark and alone. Darkness gives opportunity to barbarism to
uncover, when world is numb to fight against. Then it comes spring, with promising
propaganda of rebirth. Sun melts the ice and grass will make the world green one more time,
birds will sing and happiness appears in the nature. Brightness overcomes. It’s time to grow,
to reproduce, and change. Summer is the celebration of sun. Although nature is not young
anymore, it is reliable, replete with energy and powerful. And autumn is a transition from
summer to winter. These inferred meanings help the poet to create the setting and make the
desired atmosphere based on the theme he wants to express.
This practice of using seasons is a common one, for both Hardy and Haji Salleh, as
both make their worlds connected to a season; and use the connotations of the season to
intensify the underlying theme of their poems. In the following, I will compare If It’s Ever
Spring Again by Thomas Hardy, which completely fits through this pre-assumption, in which
spring is a season of love and helps us to understand the theme, and Muhammad Haji Salleh’s
england in the spring which seems different in his collection of poetry, and from that of
Hardy’s at the first sight, as it is full of urban pictures of modern lifestyle, and doesn’t
address any particular season directly. However, a detailed analysis may investigate the
invention and lead to the significance of ‘spring’ and ‘winter’ in this poem.
england in the spring is not a poem about spring in the traditional point of view, but a
poem which is set in March. Poet’s purpose to refer to March and indirectly name seasons is
to create the atmosphere which has overwhelmed London, because as we are promised from
the beginning and the title, it is a poem about England. Although we have some references to
‘spring’ the setting of time is actually late winter. People who are described are busy with
daily life in a wintery day, and complaining poet hopes that the following season, i.e. spring,
comes soon and change the society.
Despite Hardy, Haji Salleh doesn’t explore the nature outside in search of beauty. He
is a modern man and talks about urban life, with no reference to nature or rural scenes; as
though he has never seen them or modern life has put an end to them.
Poem starts with depiction of late winter, when still ‘arctic winds howl’ through the
streets of London, in a modern and formal language. We have the first piece of our modern
everyday life presented in the first stanza; images of night’s litters such as ‘newspapers with
faded truths’ and ‘plastic containers’. This jigsaw puzzle will be completed in next stanzas
and more pieces will be added to account different aspects of man’s modern life. Then we
have a very strong claim that ‘time has lost its sun’. Time refers literally to the middle of
March, but figuratively to our modern era. It could be interpreted as our age, the new
generation and the modern world which has become the city of dust and sin. This line is the
key to interpret the whole poem, and to understand the wasteland Haji Salleh depicts through
the use of wintry imagery.
The second and third stanzas act like a camera; they explain what the persona sees
(like a Japanese mini-market) and feels (like the wind) when he / she enters north London.
Insignificant issues like ‘cold chaotic Indian sundry shops’, are what attract the persona’s
attention, or they are all he finds outside. It is in contrast with description of London by
previous poets. The grotesque picture of gloomy land is repeated again, when wind moves
through ‘dark lanes’ along the city and frightens every individual. Again it ends on a
foretelling line, which supports this idea that the poem is not just about a wintery night of
London, but about the wintery era of human being. Persona believes that we are lost, as ‘sun’
is lost, in this life. He wishes us to ‘turn our eyes that we may see ourselves’, find ourselves
and reach the cheerful time of spring again. He feels that it is time to understand and become
aware, we are disillusionment and it is time to attempt to replace winter with spring.
Setting in mid-March, sun is weaker than before, but poet metaphorically uses it as a
guide, or a milestone in the history of England which is far and unreachable. This will be
discussed –and repeated in the poem– in the following lines, that the poet avoids talking
about British people, distinguished landmarks and signs of development, its cultural and
historical heritage, as if sun presents all positive qualities, which are gone for now, and the
only thing remained is incongruous picture of men, mostly immigrants, who do not fit into
the context; they belong to nowhere, and England belongs to no one.
The second part of england in the spring goes into the social life, though it is still
dependent to urban lifestyle and modern urbanism. It explores multicultural city of London,
and foreigners who have inhabited there and have one feature in common: they all have tried
to imitate British people, but none of them really belongs to that country; persona notices a
stranger who has become skeptical British; ‘I meet a stranger from a continent / built by the
sun, / history and need / brought him here, / making him a skeptical British’. But England is
full of ‘shops and bright saris’ and despite his assumed hope just bestows him what he once
had in his country. It is the same for ‘Ugandan cloth merchants’ who are here in a quiet exile.
The next three stanzas depict a picture of only foreigners, as if London is over
crowded with immigrants or persona feels it special and worth noting to tell us about their
way of living. Persona intentionally or unintentionally speaks in a sarcastic tone. He mocks
those who once had a country and history, and now they are here in search of history. In spite
of the fact that there is no sharp comment or subjective explanation, but there is an implied
incongruous imagery by ‘Greek children queue up / for the oily Chinese fried rice’ and ‘a
Caribbean boy falls in love with a punk girl’ in municipal houses, or a Welsh man who makes
love with a Punjabi woman in cockney.
It is as if foreigners are an essential part of this wasteland. Haji Salleh avoids talking
about English people, civilization, the ancient heritage or any landmark in England
deliberately to intensify the sense of loss. He excludes whatever expected from London to
emphasize the new face of modern London.
In the last stanza, he comes back to the wintery London with its gray eyes staring
upon the fog. He refers to the past, when England was the colonizer and had occupied Far
East countries; when, perhaps, was the ‘spring’ of England. And now, she stares at the
‘history’s break-point’. The usage of ‘fog’ is twofold here, as the whole wintery imagery was
in the first stanza. It is connected to the mid-March weather of London, and the current
situation of England; even the gray eyes of England, experienced and old, cannot foretell the
future. There is a doubt in survival, and it is unpredictable. At last, persona condemns past
and asks for redemption. Winter is like a curse upon this country. He believes that past sins
‘must be expiated in the centre of London’ to bring spring again.
In england in the spring, Haji Salleh uses spring and winter in an implicit way to
increase the climax of the poem. Although the usage is different from traditional nature
poetry, the same pattern in used to remind the reader common connotations that each season
has in literature. However, he avoids direct references to the seasons, and suggests them
figuratively in order to concentrate on the current condition of England.
Briefly, Haji Salleh wants to depict a wasteland. He uses winter imagery to create the
atmosphere, and prepare the reader for the concept of modern England, although unlike
nature poets, he refuses to talk about nature outside and winter. This invention of season is
not a noble one, but he links the cycle of seasons with the history of England. He implies that
history of England has passed spring which was when it had many colonies around the world.
Different people from different cultures are the offspring of past, who are gathered together
in England; the motherland now. But due to sins England committed, now winter is
overwhelmed. Modern London is not only presented by dirt and sin, but also by foreigners
who are not a part of it. It is as if that old London, the tradition, heritage and culture is lost as
But it is not the ending, according to the narrator, this never-ending cycle will bring
spring one more time. He knows that time should pass and sins must be expiated. All he
wants is the awareness of people of their current winter and their longing for a rebirth.
Narrator is looking forward to the future of England, to its rebirth and blossom one more
It is logically assumable that this poem is written on a personal feeling toward
London. Haji Salleh declares in an article ‘A Quid of Betel’ that “most of all, I owe my
poems to the broad and varied lives lived in the places I have visited or stayed in”. He
continues: “As a poet, all things are 'poetic' to me; all are legitimate themes for this
wonderfully flexible verse form. Things and events that I live with and experience, which
touch me visually or emotionally, light up certain frames of existence, insight or meaning,
they are recreated as the centre of these poems”. Being concerned about society and social
issues, his poetry is dominated by his persona’s perception of world around him, which
mostly presents an individual who seeks his identity, fights for roots and history. It is
plausible that the poem is written after a personal experience, during the time he lives in
Britain in the early 60s.
Comparing this poem with Hardy’s If Its Ever Spring Again, at first differences will
appear and one may conclude that they belong to two distinctive categories; as the
appearance of Hardy’s is more like a nature poem, talking of and mentioning beauty of nature
outside, like Romantic potms, with a heavy load of emotion and feeling, but a close reading
of both reveals similarity which supports the influence of Hardy’s poetry on Haji Salleh’s.
If Its Ever Spring Again seems like a love song to recall a beloved who has left the
lover. Bright picture of spring and delightful description of summer cannot be separated from
the whole poem. It follows the style of Romanticism to give an account of nature, and
seasons. In this sense, the innovation of seasons is not to elaborate the poem, but the poem
seems to be written to admire seasons.
From the beginning, cheerful spring is recorded by sharp-eyed persona who is in the
middle of a natural scene. This is in contrast with grotesque imagery of modern urban life in
Haji Salleh’s poem. Hardy’s persona is wishing for time to meet the beloved again, to unite
with her one more time and glorify the moment they had once in a spring day.
Talking about moor-cock and moor-hen in first stanza makes the spring special in the
mind of this persona, as according to Morgan, these are shy animals that rarely come out of
their covertures. Hardy creates the unique setting to make a cheerful atmosphere and relate it
to his experience; when he was standing with his arm around the beloved, and felt the ground
happiness in his heart. All connotations of spring are linked to the relationship between
persona and his beloved. What he experienced was parallel to the spring, and the loss which
is in his life is parallel to the absent of spring.
In the second stanza, he refers to the golden season and the splendid era of his life
time; when hay crop was at the prime and birds were singing passionately in rhyme. In order
to create the setting, he uses summer with all common features discussed before. The word
summer implies the perfectness of nature (and persona’s life), confident and safety as well as
the fruitful relationship which leads to reproduction. Cortus believes that the birds and the
bees are “collectively a trite euphemism for sex”. By putting it in a summer setting, Hardy
appraises his love which was complete and fruitful, if time hadn’t passed or it would be if
summer comes back again.
In a deep analysis, If Its Ever Spring Again is more narration of persona’s regret than
a praise of spring and summer. Constant use of ‘if’s and ‘ever’s bring in mind the condition
which lacks joy or happiness. “The sadness of romantic love, which matrimony changes from
bliss into misery” (Encarta Encyclopedia) is a recurring theme in Hardy’s poetry, and is
portrayed in this poem too. Unsatisfied and morose tone is similar to Haji Salleh’s when he
observes a city in which dust and sin has settled over ‘the streets’ gravel and ancient drains’.
Hardy’s love mentioned has nothing in common with the love he desires or he wants, simply
it is not real at the present, and Haji Salleh sees England in a way which has less similarity to
what he (and the readers) expect.
In hardy’s poem, it is neither spring nor summer outside, and the poet feels neither
cheerful nor prospered inside. He remembers some memories and drowns himself in them. In
spite of the fact that winter is never mentioned here, but the gloomy mood has overwhelmed
the poem. Dimness of persona’s mind is similar to the wasteland Haji Salleh has depicted in
his poem. In both, spring has gone and the current condition is far away from its blossoming
promises. It is all winter around, although Hardy cannot name it.
Now that the beloved is left, Hardy remembers the past and wishes to go back in time.
He claims that they can unite, and make love as long as they dream about, if just the whole
experience of spring love happens again. But Haji Salleh doesn’t go deep in the past
condition of England. He sees present and depicts the wilderness as he observes. All he
knows of past is a glory which is not similar to the present London.
Like many more poems, If It’s Ever Spring Again is written after the death of Hardy’s
first wife; Emma Lavinia Gifford. According to Moore’s categorization, Hardy’s poetry can
be sorted into 3 categories:
- war poems (regarding the second Boer War and WWI);
- philosophical and personal poems;
- and poems about Emma.
The last poems are mostly written to reduce the guilt Hardy felt inside for his neglect
of Emma. They explore the relationship which was started by happiness and promises of
prosperity, but ended in bitterness and heavyheartedness. In this poem, it is assumable that
persona’s emotion comes from Hardy’s sad experience; his loss, and the addressee is his
beloved Emma. Like Haji Salleh’s, it deals with a personal feeling which the poet felt inside,
and persona’s voice can be considered that of the poet.
england in the spring does not go deep into past; we know nothing of glories of
England, and there is no clue to its past, all we know are references to sins that are committed
in hundred of islands and states, which may refer to colonization process and invasion of
colonized country and culture, however in If It’s Ever Spring Again we know just about past.
Narrator’s emphasis on their relationship is the central theme of this poem. But his
overemphasis makes it artificial. Moor-cock, as we discussed is not a creature to come out in
the spring, and cuckoos, mentioned in stanza 2, are not social creators too. It is not common
to see two of them together in nature, whether they are singing individually or with each
other. These things question the accuracy of narrator’s record of his past, and the relationship
they had. If moor-cock and moor-hen cannot see them, it is not unlikely that the whole
cooperation of beloved was a dream.
At first sight, If It’s Ever Spring Again seems more delightful with vivid visual (and
auditory) imagery of spring and summer, and talking about love and joy, but it follows the
same underlying pattern that england in the spring does. In both poems, the invention of
seasons is to spread over related qualities and common connotations which are the same for
Hardy and Haji Salleh: they divide the life time into four parts and dedicate each to one
season. In both, the bleak condition is dramatized by wintry imagery and descriptions. The
glory of England and the beloved are lost, just as ‘sun is lost’ or ‘summer has passed’ and the
persona is looking forward to a rebirth, to a repetition of spring to come again and fulfill the
hope to bring back the glory and prosperity, whether to the country or the lover’s life.
The last lines in two poems are significant too. In contrast with Haji Salleh’s poem, in
which persona hopes that wintry wind would open our eyes, to realize the dimness of present
and act against it, Hardy’s persona cannot face the future or accept the present condition. He
does not dare to live in actual life; therefore he isolates himself and lives in his memories of
the beloved he once had long time ago. He is emotionally disabled through the traumatic
experience, but in england in the spring, persona dares to ask for an expiation. He believes
that sins which brought about wintry England should be atoned ‘in the centre of London, / in
the dirty mills of Birmingham / or the newstands of Oxford’ to make a new spring happen.
Works C ited
Cortus, Betty. "‘If It's Ever Spring Again’ TTHA Poem of the Month for March 2008".
TTHA-POTM. February 1, 2009 <http://coyote.csusm.edu/pipermail/ttha-potm/2008-
Haji Salleh, Muhammad. "A Quid of Betel". Manoa Volume 18, Number 1, 2006: 49-50
______. Rowing Down Two Rivers. Bangi: Universiti Kebangsaan Press, 2000.
Hardy, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Hardy. UK: Wordsworth Editions, 1994.
Moore, Andrew. "Thomas Hardy's poetry - study guide". English Teaching Online. February
18th, 2009 <http://www.teachit.co.uk/armoore/poetry/hardy.htm>.
Morgan, Rosemarie. "‘If It's Ever Spring Again’ TTHA Poem of the Month for March 2008".
TTHA-POTM. February 1, 2009 <http://coyote.csusm.edu/pipermail/ttha-potm/2008-
"Thomas Hardy." Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft
A p p en d i x 1
engla nd in the spring
the arctic winds howl through the crotch of march
wildly sweeping the night’s litter.
newspapers with faded truths
plastic containers unmanaged by civilization
let the city’s dust and sin
settle over the streets’ gravel and ancient drains.
time has lost its sun.
i come to north london
passing by cold chaotic indian sundry shops
that sit precariously on the edge of finchley,
a bright japanese mini-market
is made up by the advertisement’s moods.
the wind that chases
among the dark lanes
scratches the city’s self,
turns our eyes that we may see ourselves,
we who always examine with disillusionment.
in the dim lanes
i meet a stranger from a continent
built by the sun,
history and need
brought him here,
making him a skeptical british.
the shops and bright saris
are reminders of a past century,
a history and times edges
blending sand and currents,
flow and move like the oceans,
dashing limestone cliffs and river mud,
chaining jamaicans to boats
bestowing dreams on hong kong coffee shop owners,
or a quiet exile for ugandan cloth merchants.
time’s ditch rushes in between.
now on the lanes of the municipal houses,
a caribbean boy falls in love with a punk girl,
a welsh is hugging a punjabi woman.
all make love in cockney.
greek children queue up
for the oily chinese fried rice.
in the restaurant the father steals meat
from his shrinking souvlaki.
northern indian tandoori perfumes a whole street,
merging into the odour of fish ‘n’ chips.
promptly he curses the smell of spices.
the gray eyes of the english stare
upon the fog and history’s break-point,
they have learnt to be angry or accepting
that history must be paid with history,
in hundred islands and states,
must be expiated in the centre of london,
in the dirty mills of birmingham
or the newstands of oxford (60).
A p p en d i x 2
If It's Ever Spring Again
If it's ever spring again,
I shall go where went I when
Down the moor-cock splashed, and hen,
Seeing me not, amid their flounder,
Standing with my arm around her;
If it's ever spring again,
I shall go where went I then.
If it's ever summer-time,
With the hay crop at the prime,
And the cuckoos – two – in rhyme,
As they used to be, or seemed to,
We shall do as long we've dreamed to,
If it's ever summer-time,
With the hay, and bees achime (563).