Season’s bleatings

Posted by Ian
Is it too soon to start talking about spring on the UK MSN homepage?
The issue has come up in conversation a few times during the last few days. Spring-themed articles are starting to trickle in from the rest of the team. The weather seems to have turned to the extent that nationwide snowfalls and ground frosts are a thing of the past. Above all, it’s almost March. And this, for many, is the clincher. 1st March is the start of spring, full stop. Why? Because that’s the way the year divides up, simple as that. The winter months are December, January and February; it follows that March, April and May equal spring. Case closed.
Certainly, this is what I recall being taught at primary school. But that was a long time ago, back when seasons obeyed themselves and winter was properly cold, summer was temperately warm and the bits between faded gently from one to the other. Nowadays, thanks to climate change, March is often as cold, if not more so, than February; you get strikingly mild, even warm days as in late January; balmy summer sunshine can break through at Easter, and so on.
Meteorologically, spring begins on 21st March: the date of the vernal equinox, when the sun is directly above the equator and both day and night are of roughly equal length. In Chinese astronomy, however, the vernal equinox is considered to mark the middle of spring, which is said to begin around 4th February. The Irish Calendar (An tEarrach), meanwhile, regards spring as encompassing the months February, March and April.
But surely spring is more than just a measure of time: it is a feeling, a mood, a sensation. It’s shorthand for renewal, for beginning again, for the start of better times.
The famous Prague Spring of 1968, when Czechoslovakian politicians embarked upon a period of liberal reform in the face of Communist rule, is considered to have formally begun as early as 5th January. It ended in failure and Russian invasion – but not until 21st August, in what must certainly count as one of the longest ‘springs’ in history.
Vivaldi’s enduringly popular violin concerto The Four Seasons depicts spring as an alternately sprightly and brooding concoction. In sonnets the composer wrote to parallel each movement, spring is characterised both by "murmuring streams…softly caressed by the breezes" and "thunderstorms, those heralds of spring…casting their dark mantle over heaven".
In characterisically flamboyant fashion, William Blake wrote of spring: "The hills tell each other, and the list’ning valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turned up to thy bright pavilions: issue forth, and let thy holy feet visit our clime."
Yet it doesn’t follow such associations with the advent of change imply the portent of improvement. In Simon Garfield’s book We Are At War, a collection of diaries kept by ordinary British citizens during the early months of the Second World War, one chronicler notes: "I look at the deep snow which covers the garden and think of the thaw that must come…I want the time to pass quickly. But the thought of spring this year is shadowed with dread." Indeed, the spring of 1940 turned into one of the bleakest for centuries, as Hitler methodically invaded and conquered Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, before launching a corruscating air attack on the UK.
Such examples, though, all hail from the past. In an age where conventional divisions of time have, through a mixture of environmental decline (T-shirt weather in December), commercialism (Easter eggs on supermarket shelves in January) and consumer borrowing (funding "summer" breaks in the middle of February), become increasingly eroded, spring no longer seems to embody much that is universal. It means, conveniently enough for our atomised world, whatever you want it to mean. Accordingly it also begins when you, and you alone, want it to.
There’s something wrong about this, and it leaves me uneasy. It’s like those once ever-present, ever-reliable markers and staging posts of life are being made off with in the night. Rob the things which give spring meaning, and sure enough it becomes meaningless. Or in the words of no less an observer of time than William Shakespeare, in Love’s Labours Lost:
At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled shows
But like of each thing that in season grows.
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4 Responses to Season’s bleatings

  1. Alan says:

    Well, I have to say that\’s a full and reasoned discourse on the subject of Spring. For me, as far as I\’m concerned – I can see the new growth of flowers and veg just beginning to wake up from Winter slumber in my allotment. Wakey wakey, rise and shine world!! 🙂

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