»  The Lover in Winter Plaineth for the Spring

 

The Lover in Winter Plaineth for the Spring

Anonymous, ca. a.d. 1500

 

•  Background

After those lengthy exertions with Juvenal, Dryden, and Johnson, I think I shall stick with short lyrics for a while.

Here is one of the shortest, by an anonymous poet of the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century — which is to say, the reign of Henry VII or Henry VIII.

Commonly regarded (or disregarded) as a sort of dead zone between the scattered glories of Middle English and the flowering of the English Renaissance — between, in a nutshell, Chaucer and Shakespeare — there was in fact a good deal going on in vernacular literature at this time. England's first printing press had been set up outside London in 1476. Long decades of civil war and national bankruptcy ended at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry VII was sober, clever, businesslike, and patriotic. Henry VIII, though no doubt he had his little ways, was intelligent and well-read.

The nation flourished; great houses were built; great voyages were undertaken; literacy spread; a prosperous middle class wanted to be entertained. Literary "content providers" rose to the challenge. They did not always, in the busyness and rising confidence of the times, think to leave their names behind; but even in anonymity, they helped lay the foundations of what was to follow.


•  Notes

"western wind" — the zephyr, traditionally the messenger of spring. Shelley has left English readers confused about this, his "Ode to the West Wind" seeming to locate it in the fall, though on a closer reading Shelley is just taking the wind to be a very early messenger of spring. Our anonymous poet here, at any rate, is plainly away from home and stuck in winter weather somewhere.

"in my arms" — hear the echo in the last lines of W.B. Yeats' poem "Politics."

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•  Play the reading

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•  Text of the poem

O western wind, when wilt thou blow
    That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms
    And I in my bed again!