Poetry Sunday: In May by John Burroughs

This poem caught my eye because of the first line. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have been passing through our yard this past week and they were accompanied by Scarlet Tanagers. It's always such a joy to see these wonderful birds as they hurry on their way to their breeding grounds. And all the other signs of spring are present as well. John Burroughs described it beautifully. Indeed, "all the world is glad with May."

In May

by John Burroughs 

When grosbeaks show a damask rose
Amid the cherry blossoms white,
And early robins' nests disclose
To loving eyes a joyous sight;

When columbines like living coals
Are gleaming 'gainst the lichened rocks,
And at the foot of mossy boles
Are young anemones in flocks;

When ginger-root beneath twin leaves
Conceals its dusky floral bell,
And showy orchid shyly weaves
In humid nook its fragrant spell;

When dandelion's coin of gold
Anew is minted on the lawn,
And apple trees their buds unfold,
While warblers storm the groves at dawn;

When such delights greet eye and ear,
Then strike thy tasks and come away:
It is the joy-month of the year,
And onward sweeps the tide of May.

When farmhouse doors stand open wide
To welcome in the balmy air,
When truant boys plunge in the tide,
And school-girls knots of violets wear;

When grapevines crimson in the shoot,
Like fin of trout in meadow stream,
And morning brings the thrush's flute
Where dappled lilies nod and dream;

When varied tints outline the trees,
Like figures sketched upon a screen,
And all the forest shows degrees
Of tawny red and yellow-green;

When purple finches sing and soar,
Then drop to perch on open wing,
With vernal gladness running o'er—
The feathered lyrist of the spring:

When joys like these salute the sense,
And bloom and perfume fill the day,
Then waiting long hath recompense,
And all the world is glad with May.


  1. A lovely verse capturing the essence of spring. Those Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers will soon be here, courting, and building their nests. They would not have been happy here yesterday. It was unseasonably cold with rain most of the day.

  2. You had rose-breasted grosbeaks and scarlet tanagers in your yard? Aww! I wish they flew through my backyard. They're such cute birds. And the poem is lovely.

    1. They pass through here every spring and we get to enjoy them for a day or two before they move on. I'm sure they come back through during the fall but tend to be more inconspicuous then.

  3. The rose breasted grosbeaks will show up in our New York State yard for a day (or two, at most) and then move on. I agree May is the joy-month. Can't wait!

  4. We had Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in our yard this year, too. We had a Summer Tanager, but no Scarlet Tanagers. I feel like spring has arrived when I see the migratory birds pop in for a bit.

    1. They are a pretty reliable indicator that spring is really here.


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