Saturday, 10 April 2021

'Spring has got into the wrong year'

 Another cold grey-white morning, as this stop-start spring continues its latest retreat into winter. Philip Larkin seems to have been having similar weather when he wrote this poem, on today's date in 1970, and it was clearly doing nothing to lift his spirits... 


How high they build hospitals!
Lighted cliffs, against dawns
Of days people will die on. 
I can see one from here.

How cold winter keeps
And long, ignoring 
Our need now for kindness.
Spring has got into the wrong year.

How few people are,
Held apart by acres
Of housing, and children
With their shallow violent eyes.


That pay-off line is unduly harsh (and not even accurate – how many children do you know with shallow violent eyes?). However, the middle stanza is fine and, as it happens, a perfect evocation of how things feel as this lockdown drags on and on, 'ignoring our need now for kindness'.
The image of the hospital building as a cliff was to be reused in Larkin's much more substantial poem of 1972, 'The Building' – 'This clean-sliced cliff'. 


More cheeringly, nature, whatever the weather, carries on as near regardless as it can. The trees are coming into leaf ('Like something almost being said'),  blossom abounds, and, in rare moments of sunshine in the past few days, the odd butterfly has ventured forth. I've seen a Holly Blue, a Speckled Wood, a few Small Whites – and, best of all, Orange Tips, the cheeriest of spring butterflies. The male of this species, with his orange-tipped wings, is also among the most amorous. In a vivid passage in his Butterflies of Britain & Ireland, Jeremy Thomas writes: 
'For as long as the sun shines, the male Orange-Tip flutters along hedges, shrubs and bushes in search of a mate. His initial approach is not discriminating, as he investigates any white object, including the Green-Veined Whites that emerge in abundance on most Orange-Tip sites ... Little will stop a young male once he has recognised a young female of his own species, especially if she is a virgin, whereas older females are examined for no more than three seconds. But once a fresh female is detected, he will force his way through the densest foliage, whereupon she, if receptive, signals her readiness by raising her abdomen at right angles for about four seconds, and mating begins. Curiously, the same posture is adopted by older females in an attempt to deter males that are pestering them.'



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