February is a fickle, unreliable, indecisive month in England. The nights are still almost winter long and winter cold but the days are sometimes lit by a bright, weak sun that promises us Spring and revives the body’s belief in the possibility of Summer.
This year, we’ve had bright sun and bitter frosts in the same week, with grey, cold, miserable days in between.
I think the folks who put the Gregorian Calendar together knew what they were about when they made February the shortest month; giving it thirty-one days would have made it even harder to bear.
Part of how we get through February is by having feasts that defy the dark: Valentine’s Day / Lupercal promising fertility and Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras / Fat Tuesday / Pancake Tuesday as a last hurrah before the lean, hungry days until the next harvest.
Today is Shrove Tuesday. The sun is bright on my garden but it’s too cold and damp to sit there. Some of the Spring flowers have already been tricked into blooming, despite the risk of frost but the birds still scavenge from feeders and only the hardiest remain.
The sun on my face today made me smile and helped me ignore the mist on the hills, but it’s this evening’s pancakes that will be the highlight of my day. We’ll eat them by candlelight, in the warm, with the smell of hot fat and batter cut through by the sharp edge of lemon juice saturating the air.
I’ve recently picked up another collection of poetry, edited by Allie Esiri, called ‘A Poem For Every Winter Day’ in which she offered a poem about today that echoes a lot of how I’m feeling this year. It’s called ‘Shrove Tuesday’ and it’s written by Celia Warren, who is best known for her poems for children.
‘Shrove Tuesday’ by Celia Warren
I slept like a twig in a willow and woke to a tickle of snow. The blue sky was gold at the edges where the wind had forgotten to blow. The pansies had ice on their petals but the sparrows had sun on their wings. They hopped on the green and white garden as if they were fitted with springs. The sky was still making its mind up what language it wanted to speak; it was slow translating winter in words uncertain and weak. But nevertheless I felt bouncy, like a schoolchild who leaps out of bed remembering it’s Saturday morning, for Springtime had entered my head: Today was a day to pick daisies, to skip and to skate and to sing; today was a day to toss pancakes to spread with the flavour of spring.
I particularly like the third verse with the sky ‘making its mind up / what language to speak’, That characterises February perfectly. As for spreading the flavour of Spring on my pancakes, maybe, this year, I’ll add a little honey.
Happy Pancake Tuesday. May every pancake you toss land where you meant it to go.
One thought on “Some thoughts on what February’s fickleness means for Shrove Tuesday and a poem by Celia Warren”
Love the poem Mike! Mine is less of a bouncy movement out of bed, more a post hibernation stretch, but the appearance of crocuses and snowdrops warms the heart just the same.
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