Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Seasonal poetry

Poetry is one of my big cultural gaps.  Although there are poems I can recite from memory, they tend to be of the rhyming and amusing variety.  (If we ever meet and conversation flags, you can test me on Matilda, Who told Lies and was Burned to Death by Hilaire Belloc.)  It's probably that it's mainly a bit much for me - I have a particular aversion to anything poignant, which pretty much writes off a great deal of all art, and particularly poetry.  When I think about changing seasons, though, I do think of Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I have tried to learn copperplate calligraphy, which is as pesky to do as it is lovely to look at.  One of my efforts was to write out the last section of this beautiful poem, which Coleridge wrote for his son, Hartley, in which he describes how Hartley's rural upbringing will make him a child of nature, and influence his imagination:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Richard Holmes, who wrote one of my favourite books, The Age of Wonder, wrote a two-part biography of Coleridge.  It is very sad, but incredibly interesting and very moving.  I recommend it heartily. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Listing / Learning

It would be nice to think that we are due an Indian summer, but at the moment I'm sitting in front of a light box, which will hopefully convince my body clock that it is not a time for hibernation.  September is a time of new beginnings, new stationery, new projects and excellent food, but this year it is feeling damp and cold.  I want to make pumpkin soup and knit, and not do much else.   

Over the summer I read "The Sword in the Stone":

"But in the Old England there was a greater marvel still.  The weather behaved itself.
In the spring, the little flowers came out obediently in the meads, and the dew sparkled, and the birds sang.  In the summer it was beautifully hot for no less than four months, and, if it did rain just enough for agricultural purposes, they managed to arrange it so that it rained while you were in bed.  In the autumn the leaves flamed and rattled before the west winds, tempering their sad adieu with glory.  And in the winter, which was confined by statute to two months, the snow lay evenly, three feet thick, but never turned into slush."  T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

This is a great description of how we sometimes imagine the past to have been, although the winters certainly used to be colder in the Little Ice Age.  And this year there has been some kind of summer, albeit sporadically.  In 1816, 'the year without a summer', volcanic eruptions and low solar activity led to a cold, damp year.  Food shortages followed, leading to famine, civil disruption and disease.  Taking an umbrella on a day out is hardly that bad really. 

(The gardens at Arundel Castle, August 2011)

One of the reasons why I wanted to read The Sword in the Stone (apart from the Disney film), is that I read a quote from it in an interview on Gretchen Rubin's great site the Happiness Project.

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something.  That is the only thing that never fails.  You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds.  There is only one thing for it then - to learn.  Learn why the world wags and what wags it.  That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."  Also T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

And learning is what September is all about.