Something to tide you over our epically wet drought.
A couple of days a week I wander to work through the back-streets of Chelsea, between the Kings Road and the river. They must be some of the most charming streets to be found in any city; pricey charm though – I can hardly imagine how much properties must cost down there. And yet once upon a time these streets housed the impecunious. A plaque on one house I pass marks the former home of critic and poet Leigh Hunt (bottom).
He’s not remembered much today except as a friend of Shelley, Keats, Byron, Hazlitt and other Romantic writers of the early-19th century. Otherwise what’s most immediately striking about his career is the gusto with which he threw himself into writing, editing, and publishing (not to mention, fatherhood – he had ten children, including one Percy Bysshe Shelley Leigh Hunt; it’s as if he suspected that he’d be remembered most of all for his friendships). He produced poetry, criticism, essays, autobiography, fiction and translations whilst editing a succession of sparky, if often rather rackety, publications. One can well imagine him blogging if he were around nowadays.
Anyhow, in recent weeks I’ve tended to walk past his old house with shoulders hunched and collar up, taking care not to slip on blossom-covered paving. As we know, most English poetry is an excuse to write about the weather so it’s inevitable that Leigh Hunt had a go. Here’s his simple and gorgeous enjoyment of something that we’re currently mostly cursing:
A Night-Rain in Summer
Open the window, and let the air
Freshly blow upon face and hair,
And fill the room, as it fills the night,
With the breath of the rain’s sweet might.
Hark! the burthen, swift and prone!
And how the odorous limes are blown!
Stormy Love’s abroad, and keeps
Hopeful coil for gentle sleeps.Not a blink shall burn to-night
In my chamber, of sordid light;
Nought will I have, not a window-pane,
‘Twixt me and the air and the great good rain,
Which ever shall sing me sharp lullabies;
And God’s own darkness shall close mine eyes;
And I will sleep, with all things blest,
In the pure earth-shadow of natural rest.
Leigh Hunt also happens to have celebrated this month of May and with it, writing, reading and books:
May and the Poets
There is May in books forever;
May will part from Spenser never;
May’s in Milton, May’s in Prior,
May’s in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;
May’s in all the Italian books:–
She has old and modern nooks,
Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,
In happy places they call shelves,
And will rise and dress your rooms
With a drapery thick with blooms.
Come, ye rains, then if ye will,
May’s at home, and with me still;
But come rather, thou, good weather,
And find us in the fields together.
Personally, I hope we all soon find us in the fields enjoying good weather, drought or no. Another, more recent, English poet of the seasons, Philip Larkin, would have agreed that rain at this time of year is a bit of a downer. Wasn’t this rural couplet a favourite?
Hoorray, hoorray! It’s the first of May
Outdoor fucking begins today!
The photo at the top is from here.