Poetry and Appreciation of the Seasons: A Winter’s Walk

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
 ~ William Shakespeare from Sonnet 97

We woke to thick flakes of snow falling on Sunday morning, and a white layer soon started to cover everything.

Winter Snow in Louveciennes by Camille Pissarro c. 1872

By the time I had got my act together the snow had turned to freezing rain and the dim light was fading further under a heavy blanket of cloud. Still, I felt the need to suffuse my stale blood with fresh air, clear my mind and stimulate my muscles, no matter the rather unappealing prospect the environment was making it.

It’s amazing how even on the coldest and dullest of days there is inspiration for a muse –  if she looks for it.

The Road From Versailles to Saint Germain by Camille Pissarro

Winter can be a tough time: reality sets in alongside the Christmas credit card bills, piling on worry with the extra woolly layers and the battling of virulent, seasonal germs, whilst rousing sluggish motivation.

Even Tchaikovsky agrees we should be warm and snug in January! Mind you, I’m sure Russian winters must be way more brutal than English ones. By the Fireside is the title of January from his 12 pieces of The Seasons, Opus 37. Richter reflects his sentiments on the ivories:

The days are short days and the nights, long. Everything seems to be focused inward.

It’s like we are curled up in a metaphorical fetal position, taking comfort from an enclosed, but secretly nourishing dark space, all growth shielded from view.

Garden Under Snow by Paul Gaugin c. 1879

We dig deep, perhaps drawing on inner reserves to see us through this forlorn time. Nature too, is hunkering down, despite her wintry displays. It seems to me that the stark scenery and empty trees are a sign of mother nature baring her soul to us, her naked branches giving us a sign that we too will flourish again.

Already I have noticed the days are drawing out in small increments.

All traces of snow were gone today. The sky was blue and the sun hovered like a low, bright disc, surely brightening all ragged spirits.

Effect of Snow at Argenteuil by Alfred Sisley

Winter certainly has its unique charms, when everything is stripped back and thrown into sharp relief, but they remain so because of their temporary time span. That is indeed, the magic of all the four seasons.

A Winter’s Walk  

Trees and birds are silent while relentless rain holds court,

A rhythmic, yet random patting against my hood, hypnotising,

Lazy lungs expand with chilly, desolate air, as breath is caught

Coalescing with mist, hot and swirling: my efforts rising,

Icy droplets numbing face, nerves sparking, fingertips tingling,

Under a darkening, dreary sky, life and death are mingling.

The hushed landscape wears a sparse cloak of glory,

Insulated feet stumble, eyes explore meadows, trees and bracken

To discover pockets of beauty, embellishing winter’s bleak story,

A silvery sheen coats soaked ivy leaves – refusing to blacken,

Precarious droplets of watery diamonds hang, almost suspended

From bare and spindly branches; my hibernating heart is mended.

I feel alive as winter reveals its cool, contrasting shades;

Mulchy leaves decorate slippery, muddy trails and stumpy grass,

Ghostly barks shimmer amid the muted inhabitants of glades,

Translucent pools occupy smooth hollows of holly; green glass,

Wet wings carry birds across exposed clearings; swiftly to go

Beneath nature’s cleansing tears; dimpling patches of snow.

Life holding life in abeyance; abundance in perfect stasis,

As unseen activity unfolds within death’s enveloping hands,

Humans eagerly anticipate spring’s invigorating, energetic kiss,

Warming damp, weary bones and awakening purged lands,

But subtle beauty lingers, in the wild depths of decay,

Winter’s test of faith and spirit never does betray…

I want to lose myself among elevated regal trunks,

Their rough and knotted surfaces standing proud,

Witnesses of earth’s creatures, and striding hikers, lifting funks

Their swaying whispers soothing senses; a welcome crowd,

My body feels cold, but my soul is wandering free…

Home beckons: promising shelter, and a hot cup of tea!

 By Virginia Burges

If we want to embrace winter, both the challenges and the beauty, Vivaldi evokes the musical themes that will eternally embody such sentiments.

‘L’Inverno’, Concerto for Violin and strings in F minor, RV. 297 by Cynthia Freivogel and Voices of Music:

You may like to be reminded of a true romantic bard’s words on the subject with the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley – Ode to the West Wind 

Yours in wintry wonderment! Ginny

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~ John Steinbeck

The Special and Noble Tradition of Being a Bard (Part 2)

“All the world’s a stage,

and all the men and women merely players:

they have their exits and their entrances;

and one man in his time plays many parts …”

~ William Shakespeare from As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7, 139–42

I’m going to commence part 2 unapologetic for my continued worship binge of William Shakespeare! Especially after his recent #Shakespeare400 anniversary.

For me, text comes alive when you can see and hear actors performing it. So there’s going to be lots of media in this post.

Here’s a comic Hamlet taster from the celebrations held at the RSC in Stratford in conjunction with the BBC:

The first published mention of Shakespeare’s plays was made  in Palladis Tamia: Wit’s Treasury, by Francis Meres in 1598:

Palladis_Tamia,_Wits_Treasury_Francis_Meres_Love_labours_won_excerpt_1598

His sonnets weren’t published as a collective work for a further eleven years.

Love’s Labour’s Won

Because so little is known about William Shakespeare the man, the mention of an unknown play, Love’s Labour’s Won adds to the mystery surrounding his life and work. It was originally thought that Love’s Labour Won was the same play as The Taming of the Shrew, it wasn’t uncommon for his plays to be known under different names: Twelfth Night was sometimes called Malvolio and Much Ado About Nothing was sometimes referred to as Benedict and Beatrice, so the possibility of an alternative title was entirely plausible.

But in 1953 the mystery deepened when a book dealer in London came across a fragment of a bookseller’s inventory from 1603, listing both Love Labour’s Won and The Taming of the Shrew together, indicating that they were indeed separate plays. If it ever existed in printed form there is hope that one of the potential 1500 lost copies may surface one day…

It leads on to the question, if Love’s Labour’s Won really is a separate play, why wasn’t it included by Heminges and Condell in the First Folio?

Shakespeare vs Milton – Fascinating debate about the kings of English literature:

Shakespeare in film

Films continue to be made of his plays, and even about Shakespeare himself. For your viewing pleasure!

Macbeth:

The Merchant of Venice (2004):

Much Ado About Nothing (1993):

Coriolanus:

Romeo and Juliet (2013):

Richard III (1955):

Henry V:

Hamlet: (1996):

Othello (1995):

Twelfth Night (1996):

Shakespeare In Love:

I’d like to dedicate the remainder of the post with excerpts from some of the greatest bards the world has ever known.

Christopher Marlowe – Excerpt from Doctor Faustus

You stars that reign’d at my nativity,

Whose influence hath allotted death and hell,

Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist

Into entrails of yon labouring clouds,

That when they vomit forth into the air,

My limbs may issue from their smoky mouths,

So that my soul may but ascend to Heaven.

Mephisto before Faust by Eugene Delacroix

Mephisto before Faust by Eugene Delacroix

William Blake ~ (Notebook 40)

Abstinence sows sand all over

The ruddy limbs and flaming hair

But Desire Gratified

Plants fruits and beauty there.

Cremation of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier

Cremation of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier

Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley, read beautifully by Tom O’Bedlam:

Ulysses ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d

Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when

Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known; cities of men

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains: but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this gray spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil

This labour, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Ulysses by JW Waterhouse

Ulysses by JW Waterhouse

BBC Documentary about Byron, Keats, and Shelley – The Romantics – Eternity:

Edgar Allan Poe-The Raven- Read by James Earl Jones:

Audio book playlist by Random House – The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran:

Rabindranath Tagore on boundaries and understanding:

Audiobook of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (Part 1 of 4):

Great website covering classic literature, explaining here about the epic poem The Iliad by Homer.

Achilles Slays Hector by Peter Paul Rubens

Achilles Slays Hector by Peter Paul Rubens

I’m going to finish with Shakespeare, probably the greatest Bard of all time and the greatest soliloquy of all time: To be, or not to be from Hamlet.

Kenneth Brannagh is electrifying:

Going back through the ages, oral tradition was everything, however, when the written word came into being all the ‘Bards’ that have come since could be immortalised.

True Bardic tradition may be a thing of the past, but modern authors, poets and musicians can leave a legacy of their work. Perhaps not on the scale of the likes of Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare and Tagore, but we all have an imagination, which Einstein reminded us is more important than intelligence.

Excerpt from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Excerpt from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Art and culture as we know it owes everything to the bards of the ages, and in this digital age we can all be a ‘Bard’ or even ‘Bardess’, to a larger or lesser extent…