Thought for the Month – June 2018

Spring is here!

Thought for the month from David Gregory

Has there ever been a spring season more reluctant to show its face?  Not that I can recall.  We have all had to endure wild fluctuations of wind, temperature and rainfall, all of which gave rise to attention-grabbing media headlines such as “the beast from the east” and “the pest from the west”.  Meteorologists also had a great time, describing with appropriate gravitas the position of the “jet stream” as being responsible for the cruel extension of winter.

Small wonder, then, that when we decided to batten down the hatches, Mother Nature thought it prudent to do the same.  Our gardens became scenes of utter desolation as plants and bushes looked beaten into permanent submission.  Only the snowdrop, that bravest of flowers, showed complete disregard for the unseasonal weather by erupting into joyful life, right on cue.

Then, slowly but surely, we witnessed a steady stirring of activity.  Crocuses cascaded, daffodils delighted and a whole panoply of verdant green asserted itself in garden, park, forest and meadow.  Suddenly it became clear why spring has inspired artists, poets, writers and composers since time immemorial.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 – 1909) was a poet who wrote lyrically about spring.

For winter’s rains and ruins are over, and all the season of snows and sins;

The days dividing lover and lover, the light that loses, the night that wins;

And time remembered is grief forgotten, and frosts are slain and flowers begotten,

And in green underwood and cover blossom by blossom the spring begins”.

As flora gradually asserted itself, so too did fauna.  Birds began their mellifluous singing, with blackbird and song thrush leading the way with beautiful fragments of flute-like melodies.  Soon, they were joined by the disproportionately loud song of the tiny wren, the companionable chatter of the goldfinch and the myriad vocalisation of a host of other avian friends.  Everywhere there was evidence of nest-building, with improbably large twigs becoming airborne.  Leaves and moss were soon added to the list of building materials and no sooner had the nests been completed than the hard-working parents had to re-double their efforts to feed their voracious chicks.

But what of human endeavour during this season of renewal?  Painters, particularly during the impressionist period, made much use of soft colours, especially green.  Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Pissarro and Mary Cassatt were among the leading exponents of impressionism which was at its zenith during the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Musical composition also reveals a rich vein of inspiration.  Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” was much heralded at the time, and evidently sparked riots in the audience during its first performance.  The work continues to be performed today, delighting concertgoers with its rich harmonic tapestry and distinctive tonal qualities.  At around the same time, other composers began to produce sacred rather than secular music, with London-born Sir John Stainer writing the much-loved hymn “Love divine, all loves excelling” and the large scale work “The Crucifixion”.  Evidently, Stainer himself disliked this latter work, but choirs (including St. Katharine’s) chose to ignore the composer’s whims.  Our Easter day Eucharist included a performance of “The Mystery of Intercession”, a supremely beautiful short piece from “ The Crucifixion”, which our talented Organist and Choirmaster Garyth Ingram used to coax a big performance from our small choir.

Thus we see that Easter, that most sacred festival in the church calendar, occurs at the same time as the earth once again renews and rejoices in vibrant life.  Temporal and spiritual inspiration come together to  give us hope, joy and courage to help bring about a better world.