THE EARTH that March travels over has not yet yielded what the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh called the "greenful loveliness." But it has cleared away the last gruff meanness of winter, and that is achievement enough. Winter's frozen fields, eating themselves out in loneliness, are now the parade gounds for the feet of spring. We will know later who and what will be passing over. For now, we are seeing nature loosening itself from the dark shivering shadows of winter, waking with a start like the North Country bears hearing the ice cracking in the river outside their caves.

But after the awakening, March is not yet ready for a fling. That comes in six or eight weeks, in the dancing and singing of May's colors. The loosenings now occurring are those of nature calmly obeying the cycles: lengthening days, warming mornings and softening earth. One season stops, another begins. No human goes through such a quick transition. The chemistry of the human body is said to change every seven years, but March changes not only the chemistry of nature in only a few days but also its function. Stillness transforms into life.

Is the unloosening of March slow or fast? Some of the poets claim it is both. In "Spring Oak," Galway Kinnell writes:

Above the quiet valley and unrippled lake

While woodchucks burrowed new holes, and birds sang,

And radicles began downward and shoots

Committed themselves to the spring

And entered with tiny industrious earthquakes,

A dry-rooted, winter-twisted oak

Revealed itself slowly. And one morning

While the valley underneath was still sleeping

It shook itself and it was all green.

When oaks shake, people listen. It is as good a sound as any to head to the woods for; listen also to the other commotions of early spring - the backstage rumblings as the scenery and the next act is made ready.