Is the mood of February more winter or spring, death or rebirth? We look to poets from Thomas Kinsella, Boris Pasternak and Margaret Atwood for their thoughts
And so we find ourselves in February, at one time the last month of the Roman calendar and a time of ritual purification by washing. In Ireland, by way of contrast, it is officially the first month of spring, and the first day of the month was Imbolc, a Celtic fire festival. While the designation of early February as springtime often strikes us as lunacy, this mild year the first buds are appearing on the trees outside the window here already.
Spenser, in the prologue to his Shepheardes Calender poem for February, explicitly draws on the Roman tradition and the poem evokes the idea of the old age of the year to underpin its call for youths to respect their elders. The poem takes the form of a dialogue between the aged shepherd Thenot and Cuddie, a herdsman's boy. The youth is, at the beginning, contemptuous of the old, but the shepherd reminds him that distain for age is distain for God, the oldest being of all.
I wonder if Irish poet Thomas Kinsella had Spenser in mind when he wrote Mirror in February, a meditation on being: "Not young, and not renewable, but man." Writing in rural Ireland, Kinsella opens his poem with images that relate more to the springlike qualities of the month, a time of ploughing and sowing, but quickly moves through the notion of growth as "crumbling" to the image of his own changed face in the mirror. It's a powerful piece from a still under-rated master.
Margaret Atwood reminds us that there are other climates than the Mediterranean and temperate Irish ones, and her distinctly Canadian February is quite distinctly deepest winter. Having toyed with sinking into perpetual seasonal despair, the poem ends with a cry for the return of spring; even when it's 30 below, the will to live drives on.
Read the rest of Poster poems: February, more about and examples of February poems. Then try your hand at one of your own to post here or on The Guardian site.
And so we begin the second phase of our Poster Poems Calendar with a call for poems about February. The unseasonable cold snap that we in Ireland have escaped may leave you feeling old, or you may be sniffing the first traces of spring in the air. You might even want to document some specific February event that means something to you. Whatever your inspiration, please share your February poems here.
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