Sunday, March 23, 2014

Primavera ... printemps.... spring!

Spring has lurched into being by fits and starts in the mid-Atlantic region where I live, with crocuses and daffodils battling to stand their ground amidst recurrent onslaughts of lingering "wintry mixes." I found this delightful little miniature celebrating the season whilst browsing in the Bodleian Library's medieval and renaissance manuscript collections. It's a detail from a calendar of an illuminated psalter, made in Paris, c. 1235–55 (MS. Douce 48, fol. 4r).
I noted that Huffington Post had a worthwhile feature on rejuvenating books for spring reading, including A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, How It All Began by Penelope Lively (she's one of my favorite writers), Middlemarch by George Eliot, Lady Chatterly's Lover by D. H. Lawrence, and Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (another all-time favorite).
The poetry of Ovid springs to mind when contemplating the ever-miraculous changes wrought by the season of spring—especially as regards the myth of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades. We have a nice little volume of verses from Ovid's Metamorphoses called The Serpent's Teeth. Translated by Mary M. Innes, it is small enough to stash in your pocket and take on your first picnic of the season. Another noteworthy Ovid translator is novelist Jane Alison, who points out in this wonderful Oxford University Press blog post that the poet himself was born in spring:
on the 20th of March ... on the cusp of spring, as frozen streams in the woods of his Sulmo cracked and melted to runnels of water, as coral-hard buds beaded black stalks of shrubs, as tips of green nudged at clods of earth and rose, and rose, and released tumbles of blooms.
The extraordinariness of living-change: this would be the life-breath of Ovid’s great Metamorphoses. In his poem are changes as real as being born, falling in love for the first time, or dying. In it, too, are changes that seem fantastical: a boy becomes a spotted newt; a girl becomes a myrrh. But is it so much more surprising to see a feather sprout from your fingertip than to look between your legs, at twelve, and find a new whorl of hairs? Or feel, growing in your belly, another small body? Many of even the fantastic transformations in Ovid’s poem are equations for natural change, as if to make us see anew. To portray his transmutations, both fantastic and real, Ovid studied closely the natural shifts in forms all around him.
The images above are enlarged details from an illustration of the Pentecost (left) in a French illuminated Book of Hours, Rouen; c. 1500 (MS. Buchanan e. 3, fol. 8r). Copyright the Bodleian Library.


  1. "Maybe I should have kept those leftover dreams. Funny, but here's that snowy day!" Hm. Where I live, the only flowers I see are in the subway, or on my Twitter feed, 'cause the National Trust loves to show off their blossoms. Here we grow potholes.
    Well, I suspect I have a brown thumb, anyway, since the houseplants I have encountered have shown a preference for that color.
    I could go to the Botanical Gardens, but that might only depress me, like the time Michael Burstein brought back Miss Fastenberg's (our 4th grade teacher) rhododendron from summer vacation. It trailed behind him like the train on Princess Diana's wedding dress.
    The plant I had been entrusted with looked like something that grew out of the cracks in the sidewalk...after being sprayed with Round-Up.

  2. Very funny! We are getting another couple of inches as I write. Guess it's nature's twisted joke on me for clearing out the debris in the raised beds of which I wrote the other day. I hope to acquire some modicum of growing/preserving expertise via our current Sustainability Forum (Daedalus has provided me w/ some books to blog about), so I will report back on that. I'm with you, I wager, as I heretofore would rather have my nose in a book that bestir myself with practical matters.