Farewell Frost, (or Waking the Dead)

The arrival of warmer weather and sunshine this past week has brought to mind Robert Herrick’s charming poem ‘Farewell Frost, or Welcome Spring’.

FLED are the frosts, and now the fields appear
Re-cloth’d in fresh and verdant diaper.
Thaw’d are the snows, and now the lusty spring
Gives to each mead a neat enamelling.
The palms put forth their gems, and every tree
Now swaggers in her leafy gallantry.
The while the Daulian minstrel sweetly sings,
With warbling notes, her Terean sufferings.
What gentle winds perspire!

So when this war, which tempest-like doth spoil
Our salt, our corn, our honey, wine and oil,
Falls to a temper, and doth mildly cast
His inconsiderate frenzy off, at last,
The gentle dove may, when these turmoils cease,
Bring in her bill, once more, the branch of peace.

Robert Herrick, ‘Farewell Frost, or Welcome Spring’

The Cavalier poet Herrick appears in the book of elegies mourning Charles I, Lachrymae Musarum (1649), which has been described as ‘the funeral of active royalism’.

The execution of the king in 1649 upset a system of beliefs that kept many of the population with a sense of purpose.

Chase and Status

In a book I reviewed last year, Jason McElligott questions why Royalism, in his view, had received considerably less attention than Parliament and the English Republic during the final years of the civil war. His answer is telling:

Defeat, like familiarity, obviously breeds contempt.

It makes me wonder if that’s a general rule of thumb. It’s easy to feel like I’ve been treated differently since I left my academic role in Geneva.

  • In the last two months, I’ve been invited to submit work or queries and received no reponse in return.
  • Last month, I submitted a polite but detailed query about a particular article in the Sunday Times, bringing up my dissertation topic and why it was relevant. No reply, but an article emerged from the same journalist on the topic of privacy.
  • An esteemed academic has recently expressed keenness to see my work. I later discover that two books may be forthcoming on the same subject.

By contrary, there is evidence of co-operation when my academic status was intact. Last year, Professor Scott Paul Gordon got in touch to offload books for a knockdown price, and could not have been more helpful.

This is not to say, of course, that he would not have offered the same help had I not been affiliated; nor that the further replies I have hoped for would have arrived had I retained my status. But this chain of events certainly permits me to ask the question.

Are such concerns justified or plain paranoia? With the quotation in mind about failure breeding contempt, I wonder if there are others out there who have felt a sudden change in attitude following a loss of academic status. I’m sure I cannot be the first.

Stasis

One of Robert Herrick’s contemporaries, Richard Lovelace, wrote a moving ode entitled ‘The Grasse-hopper’.

Lovelace was a champion of his cause, by the sword and by the pen. He was incarcerated several times for his cause and died lonely and forgotten, an example of how fortunes can change.

But ah the Sickle! Golden Eares are Cropt;
Ceres and Bacchus bid good night;
Sharpe frosty fingers all your Flowr’s have topt,
And what sithes spar’d, Winds shave off quite.

Poore verdant foole! and now green Ice! thy Joys
Large and as lasting, as thy Pierch of Grasse,
Bid us lay in ‘gainst Winter, Raine, and poize
Their flouds, with an o’reflowing glasse.

Thou best of Men and Friends! we will create
A Genuine Summer in each others breast;
And spite of this cold Time and frosen Fate
Thaw us a warme seate to our rest.

Our sacred harthes shall burne eternally
As Vestall Flames, the North-wind, he
Shall strike his frost-stretch’d Winges, dissolve and flye
This Aetna in Epitome.

Richard Lovelace, ‘An Ode, To My Noble Friend, Mr. Charles Cotton, The Grasse-Hopper’, 13-28.

Due to idleness, naivety, passivity or apathy, the grasshopper freezes. With undertones of patriotism and allegiance, Lovelace envisages a warmth that releases the creature – though it’s not clear whether the grasshopper defrosts and lives or evaporates and dies. It remains a beautiful stasis between life and death.

I join many others out there as grasshoppers of this winter, unsure whether we survive and persist, or whether our purposes evaporate and vanish. Perhaps we are at the mercy of those empowered to make these interpretations.

Mr. Alexanders Picture of a Grasshopper; Too Beautiful Not to Borrow


3 thoughts on “Farewell Frost, (or Waking the Dead)

  1. If you’re the grasshopper, let me be the sun under which you rise, unfold & take off! Here’s to the Spring; & to rising and living, not falling and dying.

    All my Love,

    S.

    x

  2. Some years before Herrick wrote of ‘Terean sufferings’, Ovid had done so (his description in the Metamorphoses of Philomela’s tongue, severed yet still flapping, being rather memorable). He also wrote of the arrival of spring, and your sharing of Farewell Frost reminded me of his playful etymology on the subject, more relevant now than it was last month.

    nam, quia ver aperit tunc omnia densaque cedit
    frigoris asperitas fetaque terra patet
    Aprilem memorant ab aperto tempore dictum

    – Ovid, Fasti IV, ll. 87-89

    (Because spring gives everything its apertion then, and banished is the bite of the bitter winter cold, and the fertile soil is open:
    That, they say, is why April – the apertural time – is so called.)

    Somewhat more optimistic than Eliot, another poet who – in The Waste Land – remarked both upon Philomel(a)’s torment and, famously, upon April.

    I find McElligott’s suggestion that ‘perhaps defeat, like familiarity, breeds contempt’ to be overly glib, and feel it should itself be questioned (especially if it has undermined your self-worth). It hinges on the saying that familiarity breeds contempt, an adage that is unscholarly, hackneyed and flawed: it rings true sometimes, but booms untrue just as often. Furthermore, defeat or failure, which are subjective anyway, are arguably not active agents, and thus undeserving of being credited with breeding ability. And contempt is a very strong concept. It might be more accurate to speculate, then, that ‘perhaps limited success does not encourage courtesy’. In my opinion, McElligott’s statement, albeit out of context, is a ‘powerful quotation’ only in the sense that bullsh*t is powerful. (By the way, Herrick’s diaper is raising a smirk with each rereading.)

    For my part, while I have no experience of academic spurning that compares to yours, I keep wishing for the magic formula that would make my messages impossible to leave unacknowledged, particularly those containing direct questions: I have not found it with you, I have not found it with many. It might or might not be wrong to interpret this as failure, but nonetheless, it does not feel OK. On the other hand, I do not send out every reply that good manners behove. When we put ourselves at the mercy of others, we are doomed: we cannot hop nor even stay balanced on grass, for the blade becomes a knife-edge. But if we keep writing, keep sending, keep waiting, then we remain open to benevolent treatment: we are grace hopers.

    A number of your Aprils have been more Ovidian than Eliotic. May this year’s prove to be another.

    1. Thank you very much, as ever, for your great insight.

      Shamefully, I’ve never looked into the ‘Terean sufferings’ – perhaps because Herrick has never been my primary interest – but I remember well the description of Orpheus’ head travelling downstream still with voice, and Marvell’s ‘Horatian Ode’ makes reference to the bleeding head on the Capitol Hill that Livy describes in his Early History. It’s great to discover this link to the Philomela episode; the growing collection of fetal references surrounding the severed limbs (or legacies) still living on, are particularly strong in reaction to the King’s execution. Herrick is more likely to be putting on a brave face than showing any kind of optimism, although what I will say is that such verse epitomises why I prefer the literature of that age. I find The Waste Land totally leaden, but such is Eliot’s versatility that some of his other work has the wit of earlier ages: ‘the alliance of levity and seriousness (by which the seriousness is intensified)’, as he said of Marvell. My supervisor and I have in common that we have time for Eliot the critic where most revel in trying to slaughter him.

      A very interesting take, too, on McElligott’s phrase (which I have actually slightly misquoted, now I notice it, but not so to deter the sense). Perhaps I am guilty of being so caught up in the anecdote (and this author’s prose is rich in them, to positive effect – I might not have told about Tony Turd yet) that I don’t stop to think. I don’t normally stop to think too much, come to think of it. There is little I do not find useful or that I openly disagree with, and if something arises, the agenda (i.e. the ‘Marvell never married’, or ‘Marvell the paedo’) normally smacks you in the face like a wet fish early enough to shape some critical judgement. It’s a controversial approach to studying, perhaps. I am happy to be informed rather than some standard practices of presentations and essays centered around deconstructing critics and picking apart their every word. It hasn’t done me any harm: I’ve amassed a healthy topic which has met with approval from a high profile circle, and amassed a huge bibliography along with it. On the other hand, that nothing has crossed my mind about that phrase, now you point out its flaws, is a little more disturbing. J.M.’s point in the introduction that royalism had received less attention is fairly indisputable. As such, the sentence is a throw-away one, and I’ve only latched onto that, because perhaps, like him, the phrase is useful for victimisation. It is a colourful way for J.M. to paint the current critical climate into which the book enters (indeed, one of his allusions using colour was so potent that it was mentioned in the yet unpublished review of the book); likewise, it was a colourful way for me to exercise a little frustration.

      I loved the transformation to ‘grace hopers’. To think of the grass becoming dangerous brings to mind Marvell’s mower cutting himself down, the mower mown. April saw its fair positives; perhaps it was just that the action happened around me. Something is still missing. I am at the mercy of another university, and there is no way of knowing what the outcome is. Chillingly, there is only more to lose now. Thank you for your message, and your presence, and reminding me what is real.

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