Welcoming Spring in the Italian Language

Mar 22, 2018


La primavera


In English the most eagerly awaited of seasons “springs” to life with blunt urgency. In Italian la primavera blossoms into four elegant syllables.

My etymological dictionary traces primavera back to radici indoeuropee (Indo-European roots): prima for “before” and vas for ardente, splendente (burning, shining), which evolved into a word for “summer.” And so Spring is simply the season “before summer.” But what a season it is!

An Italian word-lovers’ website waxes poetic on its glories, hailing la primavera as “l’inizio di splendore, per tutto, per tutti” (the beginning of splendor, for everything, for everyone). I cieli freddi spazzati dal vento (the cold, windblown skies) make room for un caldo sole (a hot sun). La terra (the land) awakens from its letargo (hibernation) and prepares to sollevare un manto smeraldino (push up a green mantle). People eagerly shed their heavy clothes to feel the sun on their skin — an epidermico piacere (epidermal pleasure).

345px-Botticelli-primaveraThe artist Sandro Botticelli captured the glories of the season in the painting known as La Primavera, one of the grandi capolavori del Rinascimento (great masterpieces of the Renaissance), displayed at the Uffizi in Florence. Completed around 1482, it depicts a group of mythological figures in un ombroso boschetto (a shady glen), under una sorta di semi-cupola di aranci (a sort of half-dome of orange trees) against un cielo azzurrino (a light blue sky). At the center stands Venere (Venus), simbolo neoplatonico dell'amore più elevato (neoplatonic symbol of the most elevated love). 

Another Italian captured the essence of Spring in music. Antonio Vivaldi dedicated the first movement of his famed violin concerti Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons) to La Primavera and wrote poems to express the sounds of each season. The sonnet on Spring begins: "Giunt' è la Primavera e festosetti / La Salutan gl' Augei con lieto canto” (Springtime is upon us. The birds celebrate her return with festive song). Click below to listen.

Writers, inventors and many others have adopted primavera as the name for poems, songs, software programs, political parties, soccer competitions and political upheavals, such as La Primavera di Praga (the Prague Spring). In honor of the season’s inspiring spirit, I pass along some advice from Italian wordsmiths:

As la nuova energia di nascita e creazione (the new energy of birth and creation) flows within and around you, non farsela sfuggire (don’t let it slip away)! It will take a year for this momento più sacro e tenero dell'immortale ciclo delle stagioni (most sacred and tender moment of the eternal cycle of the seasons) to return with its l'occasione del riscatto e della palingenesi (with its chance for redemption and regeneration).

Buona primavera!

Words and Expressions

L’aprile degli anni – heyday of youth

Pasta primavera -– pasta made with fresh vegetables

Primaverile –- of Spring, vernal  

Terzo aprilante quaranta di durante – as is the third of April so will be the next 40 days (a weather prediction)

Godere di un’eterna primavera –- to enjoy mild, spring-like weather all year round

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.


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