Saturday, 2 March 2013


Yes, I know.  I didn't manage a blog in February.  February is to blame: a wet, muddy misery of a month when the most exciting thing that happened was being struck down by flu.
Now, however, it is March: the first month of spring, according to the Met Office.  It's true that for the next three weeks there will still be more darkness than light, but the light has been increasing and before the end of the month it will gain the upper hand.  It hasn't rained for a week, and the quagmires of the local woods are beginning to dry.  Daffodils are in bud, crocuses are just opening, and the snowdrops are in full flower.

Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis
arboribusque comae;
mutat terra vices, et descrescentia ripas
flumina praetereunt , as Horace put it--or, in Housman's rendering,

The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws
And grasses in the mead renew their birth,
The river to the river-bed withdraws,
And altered is the fashion of the earth.'

I always find it odd that students of English think Robert Graves was a great classicist and are surprised to hear that classicists don't think much of him, but revere A E Housman.  Graves, of course, is famous for the 'I, Claudius' novels.  I don't actually like them--I find the style flat, the female characters impossible, and the historical accuracy not what it ought to be. (You can't believe everything you read in Suetonius!) He is also famous for the 'White Goddess', a hypothesis about matriarchy and syncretistic goddesses which has virtually nothing behind it except the author's imagination.  Housman, in contrast, wrote a learned commentary on Manilius which has Latinists swooning with admiration, and an emendation by 'Hous' in the apparatus criticus of any text provokes reverent attention.

Both men wrote poetry, and I love the poetry of both--though if I had to choose I'd opt for Housman again, especially in this season.
Since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

1 comment:

  1. Robert Grave's imagination served me very well. I read The White Goddess in 1962 when I was a young teen. I can still remember how empowering it was to discover the archetype of a powerful, somewhat frightening female deity. What a change from droopy Mother Mary and those long suffering saints. In an age when there were no strong female role models anywhere to be seen, the memory of that powerful, pagan White Goddess got me through a lot. If she didn't exist it was good he invented her.