As I write, the sunlight is sparking on frosty ground and more snow is forecast in the next few days. It seems a Narnian winter, although we have had Christmas. And yet, all around, there are signs that spring is trying to push its way through. The most valiant of these are the snowdrops. Defying the weather’s wintry rages, they cluster in ever growing numbers at the edges of flowerbeds and under trees. Jon Silkin’s poem paints the snowdrop’s angular fragility with sharp attention to detail.
The blanched melted snows
Fill the plant’s stem, a capillary
Of heightened moisture. Air weights
Round a white head hanging
Above granulated earth.
There, are three scarab-like petals,
Open, an insect’s carapace
With a creature in these, poised
It does not move. A white
Cylinder with two
Thin bands of green, broken
Away where that part finishes.
There is no more.
The sun’s heat reaches the flower
Of the snowdrop.
In the vast canvas of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, the background of the Russian landscape is seen most often in relation to Levin, one of the central characters. Levin’s closeness to the land is part of his belief that he has a duty to farm his huge estate responsibly: the livelihoods of all the people living on his land depend on this. Bruised and broken-hearted by Kitty’s rejection, he returns to his estate, determined to throw himself into his work. There is more than a touch of symbolism in Tolstoy’s description of spring. We are told our spring will arrive late this year: so does Tolstoy’s, bringing with it, almost overnight, fresh life, fresh warmth, fresh hope.
Extract from Anna Karenina
Spring was slow in unfolding. For the last few weeks it had been steadily fine frosty weather. In the daytime it thawed in the sun, but at night there were even seven degrees of frost. There was such a frozen surface on the snow that they drove the wagons anywhere off the roads. Easter came in the snow. Then all of a sudden, on Easter Monday, a warm wind sprang up, storm clouds swooped down, and for three days and three nights the warm, driving rain fell in streams. On Thursday the wind dropped, and a thick gray fog brooded over the land as though hiding the mysteries of the transformations that were being wrought in nature. Behind the fog there was the flowing of water, the cracking and floating of ice, the swift rush of turbid, foaming torrents; and on the following Monday, in the evening, the fog parted, the storm clouds split up into little curling crests of cloud, the sky cleared, and the real spring had come. In the morning the sun rose brilliant and quickly wore away the thin layer of ice that covered the water, and all the warm air was quivering with the steam that rose up from the quickened earth. The old grass looked greener, and the young grass thrust up its tiny blades; the buds of the guelder-rose and of the currant and the sticky birch-buds were swollen with sap, and an exploring bee was humming about the golden blossoms that studded the willow. Larks trilled unseen above the velvety green fields and the ice-covered stubble-land; peewits wailed over the low lands and marshes flooded by the pools; cranes and wild geese flew high across the sky uttering their spring calls. The cattle, bald in patches where the new hair had not grown yet, lowed in the pastures; the bowlegged lambs frisked round their bleating mothers. Nimble children ran about the drying paths, covered with the prints of bare feet. There was a merry chatter of peasant women over their linen at the pond, and the ring of axes in the yard, where the peasants were repairing ploughs and harrows. The real spring had come.
If you have any favourite pieces of writing which celebrate the coming of spring, please let me know or – better still – send a comment to this site.
My next email and blog post will be in two weeks’ time. Until then, may your mornings be sunny and frost free.