Friday 8 December 2023

December 8th - Winter Storm

  Another December poem                                                 

                                         While I have a home, and can do as I will,
December may rage over ocean and hill,
And batter my door - as he does once a year -
I laugh at his storming and drink his good cheer.

Anonymous words from an old English song - found in a book on my shelves 'Autumn and Winter Days' by Rowland Purton

I looked on wiki for pictures of winter storms and up came this painting by J.M.W.Turner from 1842 and if it hadn't told me it was a paddle-steamer in a snow storm I'm not sure I would have known exactly what I was seeing. The full title is Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth, Making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead

Turner was supposedly actually in the storm and said

I did not paint it to be understood, but I wished to show what such a scene was like; I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for four hours, and I did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did.[4]
Although some people don't believe it as he was 67 years old at the time!

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Thursday 7 December 2023

December 7th - The Wren

  A December page from 'The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady' by Edith Holden. The only poet called James Graham I could find was a C17 Scot - First Marquis of Montrose. Do wrens continue to sing in snow? Not sure about that

A few years ago I wrote about a rather strange old custom called 'Hunting the Wren' .This usually took place on December 26th when men and boys went shooting for all sorts of small woodland wildlife but specifically wrens. In another book (The English Year by Steve Roud) I've now found more. In Ireland, Wales, South West England and the Isle of Man the wren would be killed, then placed in a box or a garlanded 'bush' and taken round the streets by groups singing, dancing and playing instruments and collecting money in exchange for a wren's feather, which were considered lucky. The groups were called 'wrenboys' and some would also perform a mummers' play. 
A traditional song began with

The Wren, the wren, the king of all birds
St Stephen's Day was caught in the furze.

Apparently the idea that the wren was the king of the birds was known all over Europe and came from a folk tale. 
In a competition to see who should be king of the birds, the eagle flew higher and faster than all the others. But just as he was about to proclaim himself his victory, the wren, who had hidden in the eagle's feathers, popped out and flew a few inches higher, to claim the title.

Another old story explains why it was wrens that were hunted and killed.

 Somewhere in the past there was a battle which was about to be won when a wren flew down and warned the opposition, by pecking on a drum, that they were about to be ambushed. The enemies are sometimes 'the English' and in other stories 'The Danes' depending on where the story was told. 

Seems so odd that such a small, now much-loved bird, was so disliked in the past.

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