Friday, December 13, 2013

Bleak December

I was driving to downtown Cleveland, to see the lights on Public Square. I went a long way on a mostly empty St. Clair. I stopped at the red lights, if i had not, no one would have known (i think that stretch is absent of the expanding ticket surveillance system). It was clear, there was no falling snow, and no road slop to fly onto the windows; because it was clear, it was even colder. Clouds of breath came forth from pedestrians. Even with new lights, the colored l.e.d., it is depressing. The casino does not make the square more festive.

The phrase that rolled about in my mind was 'bleak December'. I knew that was a lyric from poem, and song. Winter has come early this year. It has been extra cold for more than three weeks. It is a bad time for the poor, and it is of little joy to a great many more.

The first line of the second stanza of Poe's 1845 Raven:  
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
Edgar Allan Poe is gloomy, and macabre. That poem is about death, sorrow, madness, and contemplation of suicide, and mythology tinged with the supernatural. I am centered just to the midnight dreary in December, the moment it is set.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a slightly earlier contemporary poet in England of fabulous, and dark romanticism. He has a quatrain from 1806, that he did not expand. The first half is:
Come, come thou bleak December wind,
And blow the dry leaves from the tree!
This was a reference to the third stanza of Waly, Waly (a Scot cry of lament).
Now Arthur's Seat
Sall be my bed,
The sheets sall ne'er be 'filed by me;
Saint Anton's well sall be my drink;
Since my true Love has forsaken me.
Marti'mas wind, when wilt thou blaw,
And shake the green leaves aff the tree?
O gentle Death, when wilt thou come?
For of my life I am wearìe.
From the second stanza, there developed the song, "The Water is Wide".

Waly, Waly goes back to the XVIIth century, by one account; and to the XVIth in another; and perhaps further still. The Catholic references about Glasgow are pre-Protestant. I can see some Anglicans talk about St. Anton's Well, and Martinmas (11November); but Calvinist Presbyterians? Martinmas tide became after Indian summer in America.

"In the Bleak Midwinter" is a poem, and then a Christmas carol. Christina Rossetti wrote this prior to 1872, and it was published in 1904. There is a definite bleakness about the season.

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