A Roman Column
An Over Praised
Robert Frost put it well:
“The sun was warm but the wind was chill,
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.”
Such are the caprices of the start of the elusive spring season in the western world, veering between winter and summer. Here in Rome, some mornings I forget whether I am in March, or in the middle of May, or two months back in the middle of a cold spell in January. This year, an early spring in February April-fooled us, complete with the mimosa trees waving their mustard-yellow flags from every branch in the neighbourhood. Then we were back in winter and now suddenly, all around me the pre-emptive blossoming of the cherry and plum trees is trying to push my desk calendar forward to April.
But, regardless of the month my desk calendar is displaying today, in my front garden, the popcorn sprinkle of plum-flowers on the leafless stumps of my favourite tree declares that spring is definitely here.
Still, spring or no spring, for me March is a special month because it starts with my elder son's birthday. I call him at work to wish him, and I realisse that birthdays and spring notwithstanding, his youth is distracted with the pressures of the workaday world.
I realise anew that youth and spring-- that conventional and facile association of ideas, may not be always be either felicitous or true: spring is not always a carefree and happy time. Poets wax eloquent about spring as the harbinger of life and regeneration, which is irrefutable, but when equating it with youth, I wish they would write more about it as the capricious, elusive, difficult, even a hazardous season it can be. At least, April as the official start of the season was wisely referred to by T.S.Eliot as ' the cruellest month.'
I once read a collection of short stories for young adults with an appropriate title that referred to both spring and adolescence and thus the book as 'An Over Praised Season.' Each story reflected on adolescence, teen-age and early youth as that season of life, which, like spring, is more often idealised by the romantically inclined and not seen as a time of awkwardness and adjustments; acne and puppy fat; self-doubts and growing pains; first love and heartbreaks; dreams and disillusions; in other words, a tough transition point into adulthood.
I asked around and found that many adults looking back on their teens and twenties agreed that they were quite relieved when spring passed out of their life. Most well-adjusted and confident middle-aged people felt that they had wrested their subsequent poise and sense of self through the rites of passage of the turbulent, youthful years, but would not like to revisit that period.
Certainly, as in nature so in life, spring is neither easy nor to be trusted. It is full of false starts and health hazards. It is capable of seducing, disarming and then attacking. Just when you have trusted it enough to throw off your overcoat, the temperature dips, the razor edge wind slices at you and lays you low. Sniffs and colds, sore throats and coughs, fever and flu, and allergy attacks to pollen and new grass, all occur now. In Italy, a rule of thumb is that no one plants their garden until the season has settled into early May, and neither do they put away their heavy sweaters and stockings till then.
Spring is a picture window from which to contemplate the promise of beauty and life. It is a time to dream and hope and prepare and wait while being wary and wise. Naturally the young will not follow this advice. For them spring is both a season and a verb for a stage in life that beckons them to stand on the spring-board and take the plunge into the awakening world, whatever be the consequence, whatever the mistakes, whatever the eventual lessons.
Let the young keep their romantic assignation with flighty young spring; just give me a mature and stable season, a robust summer's day, any time. To continue with seasons as metaphors for stages of life, I am happiest to be in the summer of my flowering. I am comfortable with who I am and like myself better now. This is my preferred season of life, in which my body, mind and spirit are in harmony. I hope in terms of creativity and personal growth, it will be a long and fecund summer. When autumn knocks on my body's door, I hope at least my mind and spirit will ignore this transitional season for as long as they can and go directly into the winter of life still warm from summer.
Today, even as I smell the crisp new air, hear the chirping birds among the blooming trees, and fall again under the spell of spring, I am still wary. It is too evanescent, too restless and unreliable a time to be my internal season. Oliver Wendel Holmes said: “For him in vain the envious seasons roll/ who bears eternal summer in his soul.” Today, on my son's birthday, I wish him and all young people a wonderful transition in this beautiful season, but pray that sooner or later, they all find the eternal summer of their evolving soul.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008