December 9, 2009

To Kyoto and Copenhagen: the best four line poem in English

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 12:16 am

O westron wind when wilt thou blow?
The small rain down can rain,
Christ that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again

Maybe there isn’t that much competition for a great four line poem, but since I first knew it I have loved this medieval fragment, and I think of it when I get very cold, or very lonely. It’s by that prolific writer Anon, and as there is a fair bit of disagreement about the definitive text, and since I don’t have my books with me, I am going for my (possibly dodgy) memory of exactly how the lines go.

The point of the longing for the west wind from Anon to Shelley and beyond, which I finally understood after I had lived in England for a while, is that there the prevailing wind blows from across Atlantic and is tempered by the wide sea and the mild Gulf Stream. The western wind is gentle and warm compared to what comes from across the North Sea or eastwards from Siberia, dry but bitterly cold. No geography lessons here, but if you want literature, think of John Jarndyce from Bleak House: whenever anything unpleasant happens he insists that the wind must be in the east.

As I might have mentioned, I am back on the small island, looking after the bulimic cat and the toy poodles and house sitting for my mother who is flying back from New Zealand as I write. Her warming carbon footprint will be felt any day now. I am looking forward to it.

Never mind what they are saying in Copenhagen about the warmest decade in history, it is unusually cold here, and I am not used to it. The last time I was in temperatures this low for this long was in my final year of college in New England. I lived in an apartment a couple of miles from campus. Each morning as I stood in line for the bus the tears on my eyelashes froze.

In England the cold is different. It’s that bone chilling damp where the only solution is to meet wet with wet and take a hot bath followed by a nice cup of tea.

On my boat I have a coal fire. It’s a matter of boater pride to “keep it in” all night long, closing down the dampers and allowing just enough air so it doesn’t go out. I can’t speak for others, but my technique is that when the BBC World Service signs off at 5 am, and while the Shipping Forecast gives way to News Briefing, I stagger naked the boat’s 62 ft length (the bed is near the back and the stove near the front), throw a few coals on the fire, open the dampers, and scurry back to bed, snuggling in with Farming Today until the warm air drifting along the cabin invites me and Melvin Bragg to get up.

I confess I don’t draw the curtains at night, but I am really shortsighted and my theory is, if I can’t see them, they can’t see me. Besides, anyone eager enough to wait up until just before dawn to see a 55 year old woman in all her glory myopically stoking a stove deserves all he gets.

I don’t mean to be flippant. I am Against climate change (in so far as I have a vote). I am in Favour of polar bears (ditto) and since I have actually demonstratrated a willingness to be cold on their behalf (and they have never been at all nice to me) I am resting my case and moving on.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I am worried about getting my mother’s house warm enough for Old People.

There’s no central heating and the space is many times larger than my boat. The Permit Queen (remember her?) said it was awfully hard to get the chill off a house in just one day and I ought to light the fire tonight, and so I have. For the first time in a couple of weeks the indoor temperature is almost 55.

When I open the stove to throw in more wet, northwest wood the smoke alarms scream, the cat bolts and the dogs whine. Never mind! I’ve raided my mother’s pantry for the last of her best after dinner, festive, warming comfort (something sweet and sticky called O’Mara’s. I wish there were more).

It will be early morning up with the dogs and the cat and the fire and then off to the airport, but right now I feel just fine.

By tomorrow anything might be possible, including the westron wind.

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