The last of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Calendar of Sonnets (July was the month we originally joined her). I suppose I could just carry on repeating her poems ad infinitum – or until the blog expires – with different illustrations, but I think I shall try to find something different.
Appropriate to end here, perhaps, with what she thinks of as the zenith of the year. Ripeness is all …
O month whose promise and fulfilment blend,
And burst in one! it seems the earth can store
In all her roomy house no treasure more;
Of all her wealth no farthing have to spend
On fruit, when once this stintless flowering end.
And yet no tiniest flower shall fall before
It hath made ready at its hidden core
Its tithe of seed, which we may count and tend
Till harvest. Joy of blossomed love, for thee
Seems it no fairer thing can yet have birth?
No room is left for deeper ecstasy?
Watch well if seeds grow strong, to scatter free
Germs for thy future summers on the earth.
A joy which is but joy soon comes to dearth.
(some blooms from the cricket ground at Tunbridge Wells)
Helen Hunt Jackson’s thoughts on the month of May (one of her best, I think). “Sacred month unto the old” refers to Ovid’s belief that May was sacred to the “maiores” – the elders – rather than the usual suggestion of Maia (a fertility goddess).
O month when they who love must love and wed!
Were one to go to worlds where May is naught,
And seek to tell the memories he had brought
From earth of thee, what were most fitly said?
I know not if the rosy showers shed
From apple-boughs, or if the soft green wrought
In fields, or if the robin’s call be fraught
The most with thy delight. Perhaps they read
Thee best who in the ancient time did say
Thou wert the sacred month unto the old:
No blossom blooms upon thy brightest day
So subtly sweet as memories which unfold
In aged hearts which in thy sunshine lie,
To sun themselves once more before they die.
Plenty of “rosy showers” and “soft green” on show at our local cricket grounds over the weekend. This the entrance to Fairfield Road on Saturday
and Little Bowden Rec yesterday evening –
Did my “aged heart” a power of good, I don’t mind telling you.
Over to Helen Hunt Jackson, for her preview of the new month.
No days such honored days as these! When yet
Fair Aphrodite reigned, men seeking wide
For some fair thing which should forever bide
On earth, her beauteous memory to set
In fitting frame that no age could forget,
Her name in lovely April’s name did hide,
And leave it there, eternally allied
To all the fairest flowers Spring did beget.
And when fair Aphrodite passed from earth,
Her shrines forgotten and her feasts of mirth,
A holier symbol still in seal and sign,
Sweet April took, of kingdom most divine,
When Christ ascended, in the time of birth
Of spring anemones, in Palestine.
I think Ascension Day is technically in May (or occasionally June), and the idea that April’s name derives from Aphrodite is questionable. But let us have a look at fair Aphrodite anyway. This picture is taken from the Jack Wills Spring Catalogue of c. 150 A.D. “It’s a disgrace! We demand this blog be withdrawn! etc.” – 19 Concerned Parents.
Walmington-on-Sea Beach Robe - £199.00
Time for Helen Hunt Jackson’s monthly forecast – she continues her classical theme from February. As you will see, she mentions that, in March, “the violets raise their heads without affright”, and here are what I believe are violet crocuses doing something similar around the edges of the Little Bowden Rec..
Month which the warring ancients strangely styled
The month of war,–as if in their fierce ways
Were any month of peace!–in thy rough days
I find no war in Nature, though the wild
Winds clash and clang, and broken boughs are piled
At feet of writhing trees. The violets raise
Their heads without affright, without amaze,
And sleep through all the din, as sleeps a child.
And he who watches well may well discern
Sweet expectation in each living thing.
Like pregnant mother the sweet earth doth yearn;
In secret joy makes ready for the spring;
And hidden, sacred, in her breast doth bear
Annunciation lilies for the year.
Mars, God of War, also, of course, shares his name with the popular brand of confectionary that enables us to Work, Rest and Play. Here is Mars (on the right of the picture), as depicted by Sandro Botticelli in a painting on show in the National Gallery in London. He appears to be having a Rest, though whether he has previously been Working or Playing we do not know. My guess would be Playing.
If Stump Watch comes, can Helen Hunt Jackson be far behind? No, she can’t – luckily for me, as I’m afraid the prospect of an intensive series of meetings about Savings and Cuts has rendered me incapable of independent thought. Dear God, what a squalid business.
Anyway, here’s Helen, with her thoughts for the month –
Still lie the sheltering snows, undimmed and white;
And reigns the winter’s pregnant silence still;
No sign of spring, save that the catkins fill,
And willow stems grow daily red and bright.
These are the days when ancients held a rite
Of expiation for the old year’s ill,
And prayer to purify the new year’s will:
Fit days, ere yet the spring rains blur the sight,
Ere yet the bounding blood grows hot with haste,
And dreaming thoughts grow heavy with a greed
The ardent summer’s joy to have and taste;
Fit days, to give to last year’s losses heed,
To reckon clear the new life’s sterner need;
Fit days, for Feast of Expiation placed!
What does she mean, I wonder by “These are the days when ancients held a rite/ of expiation for the old year’s ill”?
The likeliest explanation is that she is referring to the Roman festival of Lupercalia, or perhaps the earlier festival – probably of Sabine origin and originally celebrated by shepherds – of Februa, which appears to have preceded it. This festival was intended to cleanse the city of the evils of the old year and encourage fertility and good fortune for the coming one. Today is, of course, also Candlemas, or the Feast of the Purification, and that too might have been somewhere in her mind.
On a slightly different tack, I was so delighted to see a clearly visible dawn this morning from my train window that I reverted to my old habit of train window photography … Red Sky in the Morning …
January. Not the most attractive of months – but what does Helen Hunt Jackson have to say about it?
O winter! frozen pulse and heart of fire,
What loss is theirs who from thy kingdom turn
Dismayed, and think thy snow a sculptured urn
Of death! Far sooner in midsummer tire
The streams than under ice. June could not hire
Her roses to forego the strength they learn
In sleeping on thy breast. No fires can burn
The bridges thou dost lay where men desire
In vain to build.
O Heart, when Love’s sun goes
To northward, and the sounds of singing cease,
Keep warm by inner fires, and rest in peace.
Sleep on content, as sleeps the patient rose.
Walk boldly on the white untrodden snows,
The winter is the winter’s own release.
(And here – in reponse to the many hundreds of you who have written in asking for a photograph – is the author herself –
Helen Hunt Jackson
I fancy a resemblance to Yvonne Goolagong, the popular aboriginal tennis player of the 1970s – though I have no evidence that they are in any way related) –
I wonder what Helen Hunt Jackson has to say about this weather … Helen?
The lakes of ice gleam bluer than the lakes
Of water ‘neath the summer sunshine gleamed:
Far fairer than when placidly it streamed,
The brook its frozen architecture makes,
And under bridges white its swift way takes.
Snow comes and goes as messenger who dreamed
Might linger on the road; or one who deemed
His message hostile gently for their sakes
Who listened might reveal it by degrees.
We gird against the cold of winter wind
Our loins now with mighty bands of sleep,
In longest, darkest nights take rest and ease,
And every shortening day, as shadows creep
O’er the brief noontide, fresh surprises find.