Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Before there was weather



No matter where you are, you hear people talking about the weather. Experiencing the weather is one thing we all have in common. It is always an acceptable topic of conversation. We all notice the weather. Often we complain about it; sometimes we glory in it. But we never ignore it. You might think this was ever so, but it turns out that the English didn't used to talk about the weather at all.

It wasn't until the Middle Ages that writers started to describe weather. Even then it was a slow start. Probably many of us remember bits of Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. It's April. There are sweet-smelling showers, flowers, the Zephyr the West Wind, small birds singing. But that's about the only time Chaucer talks about the weather. Anglo Saxon poets onlt talked about menacing weather, dark shadows and the cold. And diarists didn't start taking note of the daily weather until about the 17th century. Samuel Pepys only mentions it when it interferes with his plans. He never steps outside, takes a deep breath and says what a beautiful day. Yet here we are today and you have only to look at a few blogs to see that everyone talks about the weather. Bad and good.

I could go on and on. (Spring is barely mentioned in Old English.The year was seen in terms of 2 seasons only: winter and summer.) But I'll spare you my usual didacticism and just urge you to take a look at Alexandra Harris's book Weatherland. She traces representations of weather through English literature and art, and it's just about all I can thing of right now.

Do you remember learning poems about the weather when you were a kid?




11 comments:

  1. Weather, you like it or not.

    Hope weather stays fine in Italy for the earthquake victims. They need all the good weather they can get at the moment.

    Bad weather used to be sent by God as punishment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some still think it is. Yet no one has ever said God sends good weather to reward us.

      Delete
    2. In Venice I went to a Turner exhibition of seascapes which was literally a pain in the neck, not to mention eye strain and a mild headache. Not my cup of tea.

      Delete
  2. How funny - that Turner painting was the only reproduction I bought - full-size - to hang on my wall when I was a kid. Isn't it 'The Fighting Temerair'? (or however you spell it). The last time I tried to pull down a Getty Image without their permission, they put a little warning virus into it and threatened that they would ruin my computer if I ever did it again. Weather - it's been a good Summer here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Turner always wins the prize for skies. For centuries the sky was left blank.

      Delete
  3. How interesting Shawn ..... I thought that we had always had four seasons ...... I love living in a country with four seasons and don't think that I could live anywhere that was hot all of the time.
    I was in Turner house at my Primary school and Lamb house { Charles Lamb } at senior school } so I have a soft spot for Turner. XXXX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The seasons were as variable as they are now, but people thought in terms of the duality of winter-bad and summer-good.

      Delete
    2. What inspiring names your school used!

      Delete
    3. I loved art so was in the right house at primary school .... we had six houses at senior school and I liked being in Lamb house as it was purple ... i thought that purple was so much more interesting than red, yellow, green or blue !! I have always liked being different !!!!!! XXXX

      Delete
  4. I love Pepys but I am glad I am not married to him. Nor Turner if the film had any truth. I prefer my clouds outside!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fascinating read. Oddly, and in line with your assertion, it was only when I moved to England and everyone was talking about the weather (opening gambit to a conversation) that I noticed that not only the English and farmers talk/mention/complain/enthuse about the weather. It's universal.

    Maybe to do with that ephemeral concept of "atmosphere". The one we are immersed in like our body is cloaked in clothes.

    "We all notice the weather", you say. And some more than others. Never shall I forget weather's impact on all the women in my life(not least my mother and first mother-in-law) who mysteriously were plagued by migraines from hell when the wind blew the wrong direction.

    U

    ReplyDelete