February: be it black or white…

February Fill Dyke by Benjamin Williams Leader (1881), Birmingham City Art Gallery
Welcome to February everyone! Here in the England, it is a time when the weather is often at its worst but you would have to be willfully negative not to find hopeful signs of Spring’s new growth around you. My garden is bursting with life and, in the end, a bit of wintery weather is no bad thing. February, traditionally, meant either heavy rain or snow and this was the origin of one of those quaint old proverbs: “February fill dike Be it black or be it white; But if it be white, It’s the better to like”. The theory being that it is better to have snow in your ditches than rain. Well, I’m not so sure about that but those old proverb writers had their own ideas. 
Worcester artist, Benjamin Williams Leader (1831 – 1927) painted one of the most famous images of February in his 1881 landscape painting, February Fill Dyke. Its vivid realism tells us all about  slushing around in the mud in our wellington boots on our way home to a merrily burning fire in the grate. The painting has been popular ever since it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. You can now see it in the Birmingham Art Gallery – it might well tempt you to go out on one of the chilly but invigorating country walks. 
Benjamin Williams Leader (1831 – 1923), Self-portrait.

For something a little more melancholy, if you like, here’s the author of Doctor Zhivago, the Russian poet, Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960). I suspect Russian February’s are a lot harsher than they are in rural Worcestershire. Here’s Pasternak’s  February:

February. Get ink, shed tears.
Write of it, sob your heart out, sing,
While torrential slush that roars
Burns in the blackness of the spring.

Go hire a buggy. For six grivnas,
Race through the noice of bells and wheels
To where the ink and all you grieving
Are muffled when the rainshower falls.

To where, like pears burnt black as charcoal,
A myriad rooks, plucked from the trees,
Fall down into the puddles, hurl
Dry sadness deep into the eyes.

Below, the wet black earth shows through,
With sudden cries the wind is pitted,
The more haphazard, the more true
The poetry that sobs its heart out.

 February By Boris Pasternak, 1912. Translated by Alex Miller.

Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960) by A.A. Murashko, 1917.
Pasternak’s Russian February might have looked something like this scene from David Lean’s 1965 movie, Doctor Zhivago, where the snow is almost as beautiful as Julie Christie and Omar Sharif:



My novel, Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love, was published  on 31 October 2013. It is the story of a young fogey living in Brighton in 1967 who has a lot to learn when the flowering hippie counter culture changes him and the world around him.

It is now available as a paperback or on Kindle (go to your region’s Amazon site for Kindle orders)

You can order the book from the publishers, Ward Wood Publishing:
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