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 upon meeting these requests.
- 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.
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.