And the start of my New Year.
January has never felt an appropriate time to mark the end of one year and the start of the next since it seems only the calendar displays any difference.
Wake up on January 1st and the day is as short and probably as dark and dank as the day before.
For anyone connected with the teaching profession, the knowledge that two terms are over and only one remains of the school year – and the only one in which the journey to and from home is taken entirely in the light – is uplifting and feels akin to rebirth. Yes, there is a life beyond the classroom is the kind of sentiment that fills spirits with joy in the Easter holidays.
Poets and authors seem to be of a similar sentiment.
Even back in the 14th century.
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales opens by celebrating the season;
When little birds are busy with their song …Life stirs their hearts and tingles in them so …On pilgrimages people
And although these days pilgrimages might not be at the top of your list of plans for spring – more like pub gardens, picnics and pavement cafes – the sentiment is the same.
Willa Cather, in her book My Antonia expresses it perfectly:
There was only spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere; in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, and in the warm, high wind – rising suddenly, sinking suddenly, impulsive and playful ….If I had been tossed down blindfold on that red prairie, I should have known it was spring.
It’s interesting to see the use that authors make of seasons. There is all the conventional symbolism of spring, of course, and the mythology to support it – Persephone is the Greek Goddess of Spring, coming from the underworld once winter is finished and she also conveniently manages to be Goddess of vegetation which rather fits in. Endless stories have existed going right back to Ancient Egypt which provide connections between rebirth, resurrection and spring preceding the Christian celebration of Easter by thousands of years.
F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby opens in Spring 1922 – exactly a hundred years ago – when Nick, the first person narrator, takes a house in West Egg on Long Island. There is a sense of hope in the early pages yet as summer progresses, complications and complexities arise and the season is shifting towards autumn when tragedy strikes.
The cycle of the year can helpfully contribute a structure to novels and it is certainly one that I used in my novel Miller Street SW22 dividing the chapters into four seasons from Autumn through to Summer. I found it a very useful tool for keeping control over the pace and development of the narrative. In the novel I am currently working on The Odyssey of Lily Page I am doing something similar since the story spans a year from January 1983 to January 1984.
Whether it is purely the longer days, the promise of heat, the clearer, brighter light in the air, spring for me is always a time for optimism. It also seems a far more appropriate time to come up with resolutions – forget January 1st for committing to new regimes – spring is the time to start and embark on ambitious plans.
Anne Stevenson’s poem Resurrection has some wonderful lines and images that say so succinctly what is special about spring. From her opening line Surprised by Spring though such ecstatic statements as And yes, we’ll inherit a summer finishing with the most perfect sentiment:
Always the same green clamouring fells you that wakes you,
And you have to start living again when it wakes you.
Happy Spring – and in such otherwise dark times, it’s reassuring to know that seasons still know how to behave.