The celandine time

Celandines remind me more of John Cowper Powys than the coming of spring: the combination of vivid colour and our northern chill, the surprises from damp, earth-smelling grass. It’s the kind of mood that dominates much of Wolf Solent – which always feels like a springtime book (Glastonbury for summer, Porius for autumn?).

Celandines work for Powys something like TS Eliot’s April lilac, mixing memory with desire.


        After all

        There are moments,

        Even for the most unhappy,

        When, out of some tiny crevice,

        Some small overlooked chink in the great Wine-Vat,

        The good liquor spurts forth

        Into our mouth.


        And we remember

        How long ago the rain-wet celandines

        Pierced us with memories,

        With memories of things deeper than sleep or death

        And older than all the orbits of the planets.

        Over the tossing poplars,

        Over the misty plough-lands,

        Over the dreamy meadows,

        Those memories came;

        Nor did they melt to nothing

        Even when, from the witch-girl’s window,

        The lamp-light streamed across the night.


        And we remember

        How from a long straight road –

        Somewhere – no matter where –

        While at our feet silver-weed and dandelion

        Laughed out of the hot dust,

        Somewhere – no matter where –

        We heard it; we knew it;

        The Sea! The Sea! The Sea!


JCP, ‘Compensation’ (a poem which resonated with Iris Murdoch, who used the last line for the title of her 1978 novel).

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