Robert Burns wrote this in 1793, towards the end of his life. It’s as much about roses as the lilac, but isn’t the best known of his rose songs. You will usually hear it sung to the traditional tune Hughie Graham – he was a notorious cattle thief who terrorized the debatable lands between England and Scotland in the mid-16th century.
O WERE my Love yon lilac fair,
Wi’ purple blossoms to the spring,
And I, a bird to shelter there,
When wearied on my little wing!
How I wad mourn when it was torn
By autumn wild and winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing,
When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.
O gin my love were yon red rose,
That grows upon the castle wa’;
And I mysel a drap o’ dew,
Into her bonie breast to fa’!
O there, beyond expression blest,
I’d feast on beauty a’ the night;
Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest,
Till fley’d awa by Phoebus’ light!
Charlotte Mary Mew was born in London in 1869. She is said to have been haunted by unrequited love and the fear of madness throughout her life. Mew is not known as a war poet, but this poem is as much about life and renewed human hope as it is about the seasons. It was written a hundred years ago between the landings at Gallipoli and the first Zeppelin raid on London.
Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where the wounded trees
Wait with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun, and even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please,
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit today with their great Dead, hands in their hands
Eyes in their eyes
At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things
And changing skies.
THE soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings
With green hath clad the hill, and eke the vale;
The nightingale with feathers new she sings;
The turtle to her make hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs;
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings;
The fishes float with new repairèd scale;
The adder all her slough away she slings;
The swift swallow pursueth the flies small;
The busy bee her honey now she mings;
Winter is worn that was the flowers’ bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.
This is by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and first cousin to Anne Boleyn. He was executed, age 30, in 1547 having lost the trust of that other, more powerful, Henry. Howard is known, with Sir Thomas Wyatt, as the father of the English sonnet.
soote, sweet; eke, also; turtle, turtledove; make, mate; brake, thicket; flete, float; mings, mingles or remembers.
Home Thoughts from Abroad
Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!!
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
– Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!
Robert Browning. Just so, what more is there to be said?
We have a bird box in the garden which has proved pretty useless at attracting birds, except for one – a great spotted woodpecker which came last Spring and used the box to drum out its combined territory and mating call; we have seen and heard it again, and welcomed it as a sure sign of sap rising and growth returning. This is Ted Hughes, from his 1981 collection, Under the North Star.
Woodpecker is rubber-necked
But has a nose of steel.
He bangs his head against the wall
And cannot even feel.
When Woodpecker’s jack-hammer head
Starts up its dreadful din
Knocking the dead bough double dead
How do his eyes stay in?
Pity the poor dead oak that cries
In terrors and in pains.
But pity more Woodpecker’s eyes
And bouncing rubber brains.
Straight from the east the wind blows sharp with rain,
That just now drove its wild ranks down the street,
And westward rushed into the sunset sweet.
Spouts brawl, boughs drip and cease and drip again,
Bricks gleam; keen saffron glows each window-pane,
And every pool beneath the passing feet.
Innumerable odors fine and fleet
Are blown this way from blossoming lawn and lane.
Wet roofs show black against a tender sky;
The almond bushes in the lean-fenced square,
Beaten to the walks, show all their draggled white.
A troop of laborers comes slowly by;
One bears a daffodil, and seems to bear
A new-lit candle through the fading light.
Lizette Woodworth Reese was a late 19th century Baltimore poet and teacher who wrote extensively about the seasons. It would seem from this verse that rain (and daffodils) are as common in April in the eastern USA, as here.
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.