The busy bee in the soote season

I wrote this a couple of years ago, but thought I would share it again…

Language is forever changing and evolving, and as new words arrive older words soemtimes fade away and are lost; however sometimes when you come across a ‘lost’ word, the context brings it back to life again. In this sonnet by Henry Howard, you might at first think ‘the soote season’ is winter, when fires are lit and skies are dark, but when you read the first line ‘The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings’, it’s not too difficult to see that soote must mean something else, soft maybe, or sweet, or a word like soothing. ‘Eke’ we know as meaning to extend as in ‘eke out something’ and so in the second line eke might mean that the greenness of spring spreads out over the valley. There are other words too… but I think they are easy to understand… do you agree?

The Soote Season

The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,
With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale;
The nightingale with feathers new she sings;
The turtle to her make hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs,
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings;
The fishes flete with new repaired scale;
The adder all her slough away she slings;
The swift swallow pursueth the flyes smale;
The busy bee her honey now she mings,
Winter is worn that was the flowers’ bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.

Henry Howard was the Earl of Surrey, born in 1517, and died at the age of thirty in 1547.

Harvest approaches with its bustling day

We have had a lovely couple of days;warm sun, washing drying on the line – yes, there was a bit of a chilly wind, but we can ignore that! It’s not rained! We’ve had blue sky! The windows are open! More rain and cool weather is forecast, but we’ve had a bit of summer!

I wonder how the farmers have been managing their harvests? As I was reading John Clare’s poem on August in his Shepherd’s calendar, it seemed as if the summers of bygone times were idyllic… maybe they were. The Shepherd’s Calendar was published in 1827 – I don’t know when exactly it was written, probably over quite a period of time, but maybe Clare was thinking of the summer of 1826 which was the hottest on record (until the 1976 summer)

Here is the first part of his verses for August:

Harvest approaches with its bustling day
The wheat tans brown and barley bleaches grey
In yellow garb the oat land intervenes
And tawney glooms the valley thronged with beans
Silent the village grows, wood wandering dreams
Seem not so lovely as its quiet seems
Doors are shut up as on a winters day
And not a child about them lies at play
The dust that winnows neath the breezes feet
Is all that stirs about the silent street
Fancy might think that desert spreading fear
Had whisperd terrors into quiets ear
Or plundering armys past the place had come
And drove the lost inhabitants from home
The fields now claim them where a motley crew
Of old and young their daily tasks pursue
The barleys beard is grey and wheat is brown
And wakens toil betimes to leave the town
The reapers leave their beds before the sun
And gleaners follow when home toils are done
To pick the littered ear the reaper leaves
And glean in open fields among the sheaves

The ruddy child nursed in the lap of care
In toils rude ways to do its little share
Beside its mother poddles oer the land
Sun burnt and stooping with a weary hand
Picking its tiney glean of corn or wheat
While crackling stubbles wound its legs and feet
Full glad it often is to sit awhile
Upon a smooth green baulk to ease its toil
And feign would spend an idle hour to play
With insects strangers to the moiling day
Creeping about each rush and grassy stem

John Clare 1793 –  1864

The night winds caught the spindrift

There is something wonderful about writing – it takes you to places you never expect, and reveals things you never knew – about yourself, about the world, about life… it also leads you to discover all sorts of interesting things – as I’ve mentioned in my recent posts about zeppelins in WW!

The topic for my Friday writing group this time was air/wind/sky/flight, and we had six completely different pieces of writing.

  • a poem about General James Woolf’s men scaling the Heights of Abraham
  • a short story about a heavenly baker
  • a revolutionary design for aircraft
  • a short story about an old airman’s final days
  • an unexplained and possibly unexplainable incident on a flight to Reykjavik
  • my fantasy/post-apocalyptic short story (or maybe the start of something longer) set in a remote and inaccessible cave on the top of a mountain

While writing my story entitled ‘The wind is my enemy, the wind is my friend‘, I investigated different types of winds, some of which I had heard of such as the mistral and the sirocco, but many were completely unknown to me. One I did recognise was the roaring forties, which took me to a poet, by An American called Burt Franklin Jenness, of whom I had never heard.

Dr Jenness was born in 1876 and pursued a career in medicine, serving as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy during World War 1; he died in 1971 at the grand age of ninety-one. His passion was poetry and he published several books,and also shared his work in magazines, newspapers and anthologies.

Here is an example…

Sea Dreams

If you’ve ever stood a midwatch in the cavern of the night,
With the sea wolves racing past you in a pack;
With the steely star a-playing ’round the mastheads for a light,
And the bucking trades possessed to drive you back;
If you’ve ever seen a sunset on a copper colored sea,
When the sky was like a polished compass bowl;
And the night winds caught the spindrift from the waves and tossed it free
Till to leeward you could see a silvery shoal.If you’ve ever read your compass by a fulling tropic moon,
As it slowly rose above its jungle bed;
Dripping silver in the waters of a coral-fringed lagoon,
Till it hung there like a shining capstan head;
If you’ve heard the whining Forties day and night about your ears,
And have cursed your packet’s ceaseless, sickening roll —
With the backstays all complaining and the creaking of the gears,
Then you’ll understand the fretting in my soul.

For the wind has shifted east’r’d, and the long green rollers call,
And a brown-skinned lass is beckoning to me;
The starb’r’d watch is yarning, and I’m longing for it all —
So it’s any wind’ll take me back to sea.

If you’ve heard the screws a-grumbling when the craft was cruising light
Or the scuppers gurgle back the weather seas;
If you’ve tailed behind a typhoon in a hellish running fight,
And have felt your oil-skins freeze about your knees;
If you’ve heard the crack of head seas, and have felt the settling hull
Or the stern go heaving skyward till she raced;
If you’ve seen her take the green ones till she quivered like a gull,
And a river ran athwart-ships at her waist.

If you’ve cleared the reefs of Suva, and have sighted Sydney head;
If you’ve lifted Sugar Loaf just after dawn;
If you’ve made Corrigador, and have swung the sounding lead
In the channels of the world where you have gone;
If you’ve cruised with lousy shipmates, and have heard them curse and brawl;
If you know the seas from Rio to Hong Kong;
If you’ve loafed about the waterfronts of every port of call —
Then you’ll understand the burden of my song.

Oh, the wind has shifted east’r’d, and the long green rollers call,
And a brown-skinned lass is beckoning to me;
The starb’r’d watch is yarning — and I’m longing for it all,
So it’s any wind’ll take me back to sea.

Burt Franklin Jenness

The long pull of the trades

I’ve just written a short story… it might be a futuristic piece set in a distant world, or a fantasy piece in a world which has never existed… I’m not sure what it is. It is for my Friday writing group, and our subject for this month was the wind, or air… or something… I’m not actually sure I have done the right topic! I will share it with you over the weekend.

I was intrigued when I was researching it, that there are so many names of different winds… not just typhoons and hurricanes, and not even things I’d heard of before like Mistral and Sirocco…

I also came across a poet I had never heard of before, Burt Franklin Jenness. He was born in New Hampshire in 1895 and became a doctor,  serving as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy during World War 1.

The Roaring Forties

Let me sail to the southward and follow once more
Down the great circle course where the latitudes roar;
Where the wind-breasted seas take the lurching bows under,
And giant swells break with the pealing of thunder;
Where the Southern Cross hangs like a pendant of gold
In a sky of black velvet, star studded and cold;
Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Let me sail to the southward until I can feel
The long pull of the trades, and the tug of the wheel;
Let me bring up the helm where the albatross swings,
And skirts the gray seas on his spume spattered wings;
Let me watch the star flowers sway down in the night,
And sprinkle the waves with a pollen of light;
Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Let me sense the deep swells that roll under the keel,
As the driving winds whistle the billows to heel;
Let me lean to the cross-seas that sputter and fume,
Let me watch the wet orb of the cold setting sun,
Through the mist laden air when the long day is done;
Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Let me sail to a place off the tame beaten track,
Where the seas follow up like a blood thirsty pack;
Where the reeling horizon cavorts with the sea,
And the surges play tag with the mastheads a-lee;
O, the wail of the halyards, the croon of the stays,
The clamorous nights and monotonous days;
O, the lure of the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Burt Franklin Jenness
So winds… just in case you’re interested, a brief sample…
  • Abroholos
  • Austru
  • Barat
  • Bayamo
  • Bentu de Soli
  • Borasco
  • Boreas
  • Brickfielder
  • Briza
  • Brisote Th
  • Brubu
  • Chubasco
  • Churada
  • Coromell
  • Elephanta
  • Etesian
  • Euros
  • Foehn
  • Gregale
  • Haboob
  • Harmattan
  • Knik Wind
  • Kona Storm
  • Leste
  • Leveche
  • Matanuska
  • N’aschi
  • Ostria
  • Pali
  • Pampero
  • Papagayo
  • Shamal
  • Sharki
  • Squamish
  • Suestado
  • Taku Wind
  • Tehuantepecer
  • Tramontana
  • Vardar
  • Williwaw
  • Willy-willy

The sun slopes in the west

We’re coming to the end of July, and it’s a rather variable end… sunshine and showers – actually sunshine and a cloudburst today. We were at a lovely wedding on Monday, but it was cold and very windy; it didn’t spoil the celebrations but it would have been nice to have had blue skies above the very happy couple!

Here is an except from John Clare’s ‘Shepherd’s Calendar’ for July:

Loud is the summers busy song
The smallest breeze can find a tongue
Where insects of each tiney size
Grow teazing with their melodys
Till noon burns with its blistering breath
Around and day dyes still as death
The busy noise of man and brute
Is on a sudden lost and mute
The cuckoo singing as she flies
No more to mocking boy replys
Even the brook that leaps along
Seems weary of its bubbling song
And so soft its waters creep
Tired silence sinks in sounder sleep
The cricket on its banks is dumb
The very flies forget to hum
And save the waggon rocking round
The landscape sleeps without a sound

The breeze is stopt the lazy bough
Hath not a leaf that dances now
The totter grass upon the hill
And spiders threads are standing still
The feathers dropt from more hens wing
Which to the waters surface cling
Are stedfast and as heavy seem
As stones beneath them in the stream
Hawkweeds and Groundsells fanning downs
Unruffled keep their seedy crowns
And in the oven heated air
Not one light thing is floating there
-Save that to the earnest eye
The restless heat seems twittering bye
Noon swoons beneath the heat it made
And flowers een wither in the shade
Untill the sun slopes in the west
Like weary traveler glad to rest
On pillard clouds of many hues
Then natures voice its joy renews
And checkerd field and grassy plain
Hum with their summer songs again
A requiem to the days decline
Whose setting sun beams cooly shine
A welcome to days feeble powers
As evening dews on thirsty flowers

John Clare  1793 – 1864

Now day survives the sun

Josiah Conder is a poet unknown to me; born in 1789. he was a non-conformist and abolitionist… I must find out more about him, in the meantime, here is his sonnet:


Now day survives the sun. The pale grey skies
A sort of dull and dubious lustre keep
As with their own light shining. Nature lies
Slumbering, and gazing on me in her sleep,
So still, so mute, with fixed and soul-less eyes.
The sun is set, yet not a star is seen:
Distinct the landscape, save where intervene
The creeping mists that from the dark stream rise;
Now spread into a sea with islets broken,
And woodland points, now poised on the thin air:
In the black west the clouds a storm betoken
And all things seem a spectral gloom to wear.
The cautious bat resents the lingering light,
And the long-folded sheep wonder it is not night.

On the sand, half sunk…

A couple of years ago, I did a MOOC (massive open on-line course) about architecture. I really enjoyed it, and learnt a great deal from it.

Here is one of my assignments:


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Ozymandias is a sonnet by the English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, written  in 1818 in competition with a fellow poet, Horace Smith. Shelley,  born in 1792, was an associate of many of the greatest poets of the time, including Byron, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, author of Dr Frankenstein, who became Shelley’s second wife. Shelley died at the age of twenty-nine.

There have been various suggestions as to the genesis of this sonnet, such as the imminent arrival of a statue of Ramses II in London for an exhibition, as Ozymandias is another name for that pharaoh. However, the meaning of the poem goes beyond a mere description of an antique statue, it is a reflection on impermanence of even the greatest of men.

I chose this piece because as someone interested in archaeology the images it conjures are not of the once magnificent pharaoh, powerful and mighty, but of an artefact which stirs my imagination and curiosity. If I had come across the ‘trunkless legs of stone’ in a deserted and lonely place, my response would n’t have been to wonder about the man, but to wonder about the statue. Who’d carved it and why? What was its significance in its time? What was its original context – temple, palace, avenue of other statues? I’d have immediately been intrigued at the thought of more evidence lying beneath the ‘boundless and bare, the lone and level sands’. What was the real meaning of the inscription on the base of the statue, presumably written when the statue was whole and complete… or had it? An archaeologist would have to examine the evidence to see if the inscription was contemporary to the statue. An archaeologist might have other knowledge or experience which would help explain what is there in the desert.

This sonnet of fourteen lines, has an unusual rhyme scheme which links the first eight lines to the last six, giving form and a sort of energy to the verse as the lines are linked by the rhymes. It is written in iambic pentameter (a particular form of poetry with a distinct rhythm) which gives a strong feel to the verse, echoing the strong and enduring statue, which though broken, still stands so enigmatically and powerfully. The sonnet is significant as one of the finest examples of the form in the English language, and considered by many to be among the best of Shelley’s work.

To me it does give an idea of what archaeologists might find in the field, a broken yet still potent object. Though ruined, the mighty legs stills stand, and the face of the statue is realistic and open to the modern eye. Shelley describes it as a life-like representation of a powerful and ruthless man “whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” conveys his contempt for those he ‘stamped on’ and ‘mocked’. Shelley was not an archaeologist, he interprets the expression in a way contemporary to himself; and archaeologist would have to consider the sculptors that Shelley mentions, but also whoever may have commissioned the statue, and any related myths or religious significance which we might be able to deduce from other information or other evidence.

I do like this sonnet, very much. Anyone who produces some form of art, painting, poem, novel, whatever, enters into a relationship with the reader/viewer which the artist cannot control. The person regarding the object has his/her own thoughts and opinions and influences which make the work open to many interpretations. I also like it because it is very clever, and I would recommend it to anyone who has imagination, who likes to look beneath the surface and is open to viewing things from an original point of view.

© Lois Elsden 2017