THE FOUR SEASONS.
Season of wild winds and cruel frosts.
Thought for the season by The Bard:
‘Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
The season’s difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
‘This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly tell me what I am.’
As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 1.
West wind, when will thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.
Anon. About 1500.
Hunters in the Snow.
In Brueghel’s masterpiece
‘Hunters in the Snow,’
Though peasants skate upon
The frozen river, no
Winter wonderland is this.
Silhouettes of leafless trees
Stand stark against a leaden sky
That matches matt-grey river.
Exhausted dogs, hunters with meager prey,
Peasants laboring on the snow fields,
Each trying to survive the Little Ice Age.
The Darkling Thrush.
I leant upon a coppice gate
When frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy
The wind his death lament,
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervorless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, full gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing doom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
By the Fire.
… where with a sweet and velvet lip
The snapdragons within the fire
Of their red summer never tire.
The Flowering Flame.
Tsuneyo: How cold it is! And as the night passes, each hour the frost grows keener. If I had but fuel to light a fire with, that you might sit by it and warm yourself! Ah! I have thought of something. I have some dwarf trees. I will cut them down and make a fire of them.
Priest: Have you indeed dwarf trees?
Tsuneyo: Yes, when I was in the World I had a fine show of them; but when my trouble came I had no more heart for tree fancying, and gave them away. But three of them I kept – plum, cherry and pine. Look, there they are covered with snow. They are precious to me; yet for tonight’s entertainment, I will gladly set light to them.
Tsuneyo goes and stands by the dwarf trees. Then he brushed the snow from them and looked ;
‘I cannot, cannot,’ he cried.’ O beautiful trees, must I begin?
You, plum tree, among bare branches blooming
Hard by the window, still on northward face
Snow sealed, yet first to scent
Cold air with flowers, earliest of Spring;
‘You shall first fall.’
You by those boughs on mountain hedge entwined
Dull country folk have passed and caught their breath,
Hewn down for firewood. Little had I thought my hand so pitiless!’
‘You cherry, (for each Spring your blossom comes
Behind the rest) I thought a lonely tree
And reared you tenderly, but now
I, I am lonely, left, and you cut down,
Shall flower but with flame.’
‘You now, o pine, whose branches I had thought
One day when you were old to lop and trim,
Standing you as a post in the field, such use
Shall never know, tree whom the winds
Have ever wreaked with quaking mists,
Now shimmering in the flame
Shall burn and burn and burn.’
Seami. From Hakchi No ki.
Translated, Arthur Waley.
Food in Winter.
Winter has come, fierce is the cold;
In the sharp morning air new-risen we meet.
Rheum freezes in the nose,
Frost hangs about the chin.
For hollow bellies, for chattering teeth and shivering knees
What better than hot cake?
Soft as the down of spring.
Whiter than autumn floss.
Dense and swift the steam
Rises, swells and spreads.
Fragrance rises through the air,
Is scattered far and wide,
Steals down along the wind and wets
The covetous mouth of passer-by.
Servants and grooms
Cast sidelong glances, munch the empty air.
They lick their lips who serve;
While lines of envious lackeys by the wall
Stand dryly swallowing.
Shu Hsi. ( C AD 265-306.)
Translated Arthur Waley.
Christmas Dinner with the Cratchits.
… But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone – too nervous to bear witness – to take the pudding up and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it while they were merry with the goose – and supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered – flushed by smiling proudly – with the pudding like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half – a – quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest successs achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it. but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.
Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol.
I sing of a maiden.
I sing of a maiden
That is makeless,
King of all Kings
To her son she ches.
He came all so stille
Ther his moder was,
As dew in Aprille
That falleth on the grass.
He came al so stille
To his mouderes bour,
As dew in Aprille
That falleth on the flour.
He came al so stille,
Ther his moder lay
As dew in Aprille
That falleth on the spray.
Moder and maiden
Was never non but sche;
Well may such a lady
Godes moder be.
Anon. 15th century.
‘On the way to Bethlehem.’ Music of the Medieval Pilgrim.
Seasons Greetings to ye all from a serf.