There are certain phrases from T S Eliot’s poetry that have stuck in my mind since I was a teenager, studying English Literature at school. ‘Midwinter Spring’ is one of them*. It always seemed somewhat ambiguous at the time: a contradiction in terms. Living in rural Cumbria has made me appreciate midwinter spring however – especially this year.
What made me ponder the matter in particular was planning, in my head, the programme for Midsummer Music and the lunchtime recital Deborah and I are giving as part of Lanercost Festival the same week. It struck me that here I was, thinking about a concert and a recital just a few weeks off around the time of the summer solstice and yet there are days when there is still snow on the hills or the odd icy hail storm. How can ‘summer’ be here so soon when we have hardly left winter behind?
The house and garden are full of spring flowers and the days can be glorious, and yet it’s the end of April and the temperature can plummet to wintery levels: today I went to buy more firewood as whilst I don’t want to put the heating back on, I still want some warmth in the evenings. But yesterday I was running in Quarry Beck Woods en route to Lanercost and the bluebells are beginning to come out: a flower I normally associate with May. They’re not yet the blue mist they will be, but they seemed to be saying that summer was on its way. And I love the tiny, delicate wood sorrel – imagine this sight with the sound of the beck splashing and birds singing.
The day before I had noticed how buds of leaves were beginning to appear on the trees. The leaves of some of the horse chestnuts, when they were in a sunnier, warmer, position, were already open – not yet full size but small vivid green umbrellas. One tree had fallen over and yet it was bursting with some sort of prickly flower, the branch bent but not broken from the trunk.
Spring is such an uplifting season, reminding me of more words used by T S Eliot, this time quoting in part the mystic Julian of Norwich: “And all shall be well and All manner of things shall be well.”*
Meanwhile I dream and muse while I run, glad that I live here in this magical corner of the world, where your feet feel the earth, history wraps the lives of the people who have gone before around you, and you can stand at the top of a hill and let your spirit soar.
Monday: a footnote. I was in Preston all day on a site visit. It was sunny and fairly warm. As I approached Brampton on the A69 a gritter lorry went past me and the radio started talking about snow…
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*both quotations are from Little Gidding, which begins “Midwinter spring is its own season Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown…”