Thursday, 7 April 2011

Now that April's here -

Robert Browning was not the only poet to be inspired by the English spring. Some of Alfred Noyes’ best known lines, from his poem The Barrel Organ, are on the same theme:

Go down to Kew in lilac-time, in lilac-time, in lilac-time;
Go down to Kew in lilac-time (it isn't far from London!)
And you shall wander hand in hand with love in summer's wonderland;
Go down to Kew in lilac-time (it isn't far from London!)

The cherry-trees are seas of bloom and soft perfume and sweet perfume,
The cherry-trees are seas of bloom (and oh, so near to London!)
And there they say, when dawn is high and all the world's a blaze of sky
The cuckoo, though he's very shy, will sing a song for London.

And Geoffrey Chaucer pointed out that spring is a time for journeys:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.

Spring is a good time to set the opening of a novel if the mood is intended to be upbeat and optimistic. But such is the English weather that at any time of year there might be weather to match any mood a novelist might want to establish. An unseasonably warm, spring-like day in January or February, perhaps, or a grey, cold, wet day in July. Snow stopped play in a cricket match in June once.

Conversely, the weather can contrast with a character’s mood; the protagonist’s family and friends might all be enjoying themselves outside in the sunshine while he or she remains indoors trying to deal with bad news or resolve a serious problem.

The weather has influenced real historical events. Storms delayed and ultimately destroyed the Spanish fleet in 1588. Bad weather in the English Channel caused the launch of Operation Overlord to be delayed in June 1944.

In historical fiction especially the weather can be used to raise tension. The hero can be delayed on his way to rescue the heroine from a dangerous situation; the crucial piece of information can arrive too late to stop a wedding or secure an acquittal in a trial.

There’s nearly always something to say about the weather, too. So if two characters who are strangers to each other need to strike up a conversation on a train or in a stagecoach or at an inn, a remark about the weather makes a good starting point.

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