‘Four hundred lungs breathing one fresh start’: crowd-sourced poem heralds arrival of longed-for spring

Press release
Chiffchaff in blackthorn
Published : 21 Apr 2021

Hundreds of people have contributed to a new piece of nature poetry, published today, that reveals the nation’s feelings about the arrival of spring after a year living under coronavirus restrictions.

The poem Spring, An Inventory by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett weaves together observations made by 400 members of the public on the first official day of the season, 20 March 2021. 

Presented as a tally of spring sightings, the poem reflects the frequency of words that appeared in the submissions, with lines such as ‘fifty-one blossoms on the cherry swell’ and ‘thirty-five suns in the speckled moss’.

The National Trust and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the organisations behind the initiative, said they aimed to shine a spotlight on the quiet but constant role nature has played in our daily lives during an extraordinary year. The contributions were collected via the National Trust’s social media channels over the weekend of 20 March. 

People of all ages shared observations from their gardens, local countryside and even through windows, with many expressing feelings of relief – ‘Spring arrives like an exhaled breath’ (Josephine Corcoran) – and describing encounters with wildlife – ‘I hushed my breath and willed it to stay, Just going about as it may. For I felt it comforting to share, To coexist together there.’ (Sarah Hawkins, The Robin).

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett said: “It was a privilege to share in so many people's experience of spring in this way. I chose the form of an inventory for the poem as a way of mapping common themes across submissions and presenting a more hopeful tally of numbers than we have been used to seeing in the past year - in fact, the word hope itself recurred fifty-four times."

Celia Richardson, Director of Communications at the National Trust, said: “After a year when we have consumed more facts and figures than ever before, this is a data set of a different kind. 

“The feelings of relief and hope are palpable in the contributions - as is the sense of connection to nature. People have spent more time listening to birdsong and noticing wildlife this past year, and that appreciation of the small things in life, of everyday nature, really shines through.

“Given that the environment needs a helping hand now more than ever that can only be a positive thing.” 

Findings in a recent YouGov poll, commissioned by the Trust and released last month, revealed that over a third of adults said that compared to the first lockdown, they were more aware of the changing seasons. And, over two thirds of all adults either agreed or strongly agreed that spending time noticing nature around them had made them feel happier in the most recent lockdown.

An extract from Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s poem Spring, An Inventory is below. The full version can be found on the National Trust’s website: nationaltrust.org.uk/nature-diary 

A selection of contributions received via social media can be found in the notes to editors.

An extract from Spring, An Inventory by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

Fifty-four hopes in the hardwood held,    
slow, the hour brightens
through damp roots and fused shoots the pressure wells,
fifty-one blossoms on the cherry swell,                
tiny beech leaves ripen.                    
Fifty-four hopes in the hardwood held    
slow, the hour brightens.            

Forty-four trees in the waking woods,
forty-one spilling gardens.
Five cherry trees where the blackbirds stood,
thirty-five joys through their gleaming broods,
thirty-eight buds nectar-guarding
in forty-four trees in the waking woods,
in forty-one spilling gardens.

A selection of contributions received via social media, reproduced with permission of the authors:

Ann Cuthbert
Two dunnocks today calling to each other across our garden, a sweet swelling sound from one small throat answered in an echo by another. Then they flew together into the red stems of dogwood, flirted tails then sat together quietly.

Amy Gallacher and daughter Naomi
My daughter (20 months) articulated the joy of spring perfectly yesterday - 'birds, more birds!'

Kate Sheehan-Finn
Garden Chatter, scribbled by me as I ‘commute’ from home to garden office every morning. 
Garden Chatter 
The Blackbird Telegraph trills out a warning:
Human Danger Approaching! 
She’s on the decking. 
And Bluetit flees with Chaffinch, 
Winging swiftly away, up and up, 
To perch nervously in the refuge canopy. 
Now empty feeders wave forlornly 
Until imminent threat has been averted. 
Only then, will Robin toot the All-clear, 
Signalling the Return and the feasting resumes.

Philip Strange
Strewn across the forest floor like splashes of white paint, the flowers surprised us. With their snowy petals cradling crowns of golden stamens, wood anemones are one of the earliest woodland flowers to bloom each spring. They are said to be named after the Anemoi, the Greek Gods of wind, and when a breeze caressed the flowers, they nodded in assent.

Caitlin Phillips 
I’ve been here before………. Through my window, under the gnarled and barren fig, I observe a cluster of primroses nestling together. Like ducklings without the mother duck. Their soft pastel hues, yellows and pinks, iridescent and fragile against the loamy gloom. I watch as their petals, twitched by breeze, beckon a solitary bee. Is this the prelude to a new beginning, I wonder, or just part of a repeating cycle?

Margaret Anderson
An incredible surge of hope and happiness wells up into my heart which almost hurts. Spring is full of promise

Sarah Hawkins
The Robin 
The robin stayed in the garden here, It did not wish to venture near. When onto the doorstep I came to sit, It was not frightened, not one little bit. It stayed to watch me calmly rest, Knowing eyes and charming red breast. Flitting along the fence it hopped, Every now and then it stopped. To look upon me sitting there, I could only sit and stare. It knew I meant it no harm, And not wanting to cause alarm. I hushed my breath and willed it to stay, Just going about as it may. For I felt it comforting to share, To coexist together there.

Josephine Corcoran
Spring arrives like an exhaled breath

Jess Rippengale
A week of walking: 
Day 1. I mistake the sky reflected in drops of water for blossom buds on the end of a twig. Too soon for spring. 
Day 7. I mistake blossom buds on the end of a twig for drops of water. A pessimistic elongation of winter.

Kerry Shephard
First rays of sunlight wake me from sleep rather than the alarm going off. The birdsong starts early before the humdrum of the cars passing by muffles their wakening call. The new shoots in the garden, buried deep in the soil months ago, spark new life and hope. The time has come to put away the winter hats, gloves and scarves and swap them for lighter, layered clothing so in turn our foot-led journeys have a greater spring their step. Then there's the blossom - to me the beauty of spring lies in the awakening of the buds on the trees as they get ready to put on the greatest show of all, spreading colour & fragrance from the moment we step outside. For there is always hope.