The Shepherds Calendar – February – A Thaw

I’m writing this after the two coldest nights of the year, with the weather looking set to warm slightly again, for the time being at least.  Though the day is dull, the frost is disappearing more quickly than before, and the remaining snow grows less.  There are clear signs of spring in the garden and round the village, and more people are getting out as the days get longer and the sun higher.  The masterly John Clare had an ability to capture the countryside’s everyday rhythms and changes in very accessible poetry, and some certainly think him the most important poet of the natural world.

This is part of his Shepard’s Calendar and records a February thaw from the mid 19th century.

The snow is gone from cottage tops
The thatch moss glows in brighter green
And eves in quick succession drops
Where grinning ides once hath been
Pit patting wi a pleasant noise
In tubs set by the cottage door
And ducks and geese wi happy joys
Douse in the yard pond brimming oer

.

Odd hive bees fancying winter oer
And dreaming in their combs of spring
Creeps on the slab beside their door
And strokes its legs upon its wing

While wild ones half asleep are humming
Round snowdrop bells a feeble note
And pigions coo of summer coming
Picking their feathers on the cote

.

Each barns green thatch reeks in the sun
Its mate the happy sparrow calls
And as nest building spring begun
Peeps in the holes about the walls

The wren a sunny side the stack
Wi short tail ever on the strunt
Cockd gadding up above his back
Again for dancing gnats will hunt

.

Hens leave their roosts wi cackling calls
To see the barn door free from snow
And cocks flye up the mossy walls
To clap their spangld wings and crow
About the steeples sunny top
The jackdaw flocks resemble spring
And in the stone archd windows pop
Wi summer noise and wanton wing

.

The small birds think their wants are oer
To see the snow hills fret again
And from the barns chaff litterd door
Betake them to the greening plain
The woodmans robin startles coy
Nor longer at his elbow comes
To peck wi hungers eager joy
Mong mossy stulps the litterd crumbs

.

The hedghog from its hollow root

Sees the wood moss clear of snow
And hunts each hedge for fallen fruit
Crab hip and winter bitten sloe
And oft when checkd by sudden fears
As shepherd dog his haunt espies
He rolls up in a ball of spears
And all his barking rage defies

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