Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all-triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.
This is Shakespeare’s 33rd sonnet and looks to be a comment on the changeability of the English weather – the first 8 lines seem to be exactly about those days that begin brilliantly and then become progressively dull as the sun is hidden by cloud. Today is one of those days! Yet the next lines suggest it’s really about something much more human: love and estrangement; the need for understanding, and forgiveness.
It was on the fifth of August
The weather fair and mild
Unto Brigg Fair I did repair
For a love I was inclined.
I got up with the lark in the morning
And my heart was full of glee
Expecting there to meet my dear
Long time I’d wished to see.
I looked over my left shoulder
To see what I might see
And there I spied my own true love
Come a-tripping down to me.
I took hold of her lily-white hand
And merrily sang my heart
For now we are together
We never more shall part.
For the green leaves, they will wither
And the roots, they shall decay
Before that I prove false to her
The lass that loves me well.
In 1905, Percy Grainger recorded two verses of Brigg Fair, sung by Joseph Taylor during a Lincolnshire music competition. Grainger added extra verses from other folksongs to produce one of the most poetic and iconic of English songs which is still much played today in both folk and orchestral settings. Although the world of Brigg Fair now seems long gone, it’s to be hoped that the enduring nature of love, and our love for nature, is not.
I don’t know about “mellow”, but 2013 looks set to be a year of fruitfulness, with evidence across the village of abundant apples, sloes, pears, blackberries, raspberries, haws and rowan. A bumper harvest, it seems. Perhaps John Keats would have recognised this time – the sort of autumn he immortalised in his Ode to Autumn. This is the first verse:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
The poem ends with the sounds of Autumn:
… in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Now is the time for the burning of the leaves,
They go to the fire; the nostril pricks with smoke
Wandering slowly into the weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin, and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.
The last hollyhock’s fallen tower is dust:
All the spices of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! the reddest rose is a ghost.
Sparks whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.
Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before,
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there:
Let them go to the fire with never a look behind.
That world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.
They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.
This is the first part of Robert Laurence Binyon’s The Burning of the Leaves. Its images would not be as rich if it were a poem about composting.
John Clare’s ‘December’ which speaks of the simple gifts of a child’s Christmas.
While snow the window-panes bedim,
The fire curls up a sunny charm,
Where, creaming o’er the pitcher’s rim,
The flowering ale is set to warm;
Mirth, full of joy as summer bees,
Sits there, its pleasures to impart,
And children, ‘tween their parent’s knees,
Sing scraps of carols o’er by heart.
And some, to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window-seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
In fancy infant ecstasy;
Laughing, with superstitious love,
O’er visions wild that youth supplies,
Of people pulling geese above,
And keeping Christmas in the skies.
As tho’ the homestead trees were drest,
In lieu of snow, with dancing leaves,
As tho’ the sun-dried martin’s nest,
Instead of ickles, hung the eaves,
The children hail the happy day –
As if the snow were April’s grass,
And pleas’d, as ‘neath the warmth of May,
Sport o’er the water froze as glass.
Despite our more material, comfortable, and increasingly electronic times, there are still simple pleasures that can make Christmas and winter a memorable and special time.