February 2: whether it is Candlemass in the past or Groundhog Day in the present, people are craving change and hope at this time of year. I think it is interesting how the very secular Groundhog Day replaced a Christian holy day which probably replaced an earlier pagan festival day. In the end, the weather and the season are the constant variables, and people’s desire for Spring, in every era. One thing is for sure: you must take your Christmas decorations down by Candlemass/Groundhog Day: Valentine’s Day is just too late. This has been determined by custom and expressed best, I think, by the seventeenth-century English poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674).
Herrick’s major work was Hesperides; or the Works both Human and Divine of Robert Herrick, published in 1648 in the midst of the English Civil War but revealing no sense of a troubled time. It is full of little odes and ditties, to women (Julia, Chloris, Anthea, Electra; most are judged fictional by scholars), flowers, and the changing seasons. Herrick seems to exemplify the gather ye rosebuds while ye may mentality that he first expressed. He also provides a guide to seasonal decorating in his poem Ceremonies for Candlemasse Eve:
Down with the Rosemary and Bays, Down with the Mistletoe; Instead of Holly, no up-raise the Box (for show.)
The Holly hitherto did sway; Let Box now domineer; Until the dancing Easter-day, or Easter’s eve appear.
Then youthful Box which now has grace, Your house to renew; Grown old, surrender must his place, Unto the crisped Yew.
When Yew is out, then Birch comes in, and many flowers beside: Both of a fresh and fragrant kin To honour Whitsuntide.
Green rushes then, and sweetest bents, with cooler Oaken boughs; Come in for comely ornaments, To re-adorn the house. Thus times do shift; each thing his turn do’s hold; new things succeed, as former things grow old.
Times do shift, and former things grow old. I’m sure that Herrick poems were quite old in the eighteenth century, but they seem to have experienced a revival in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, resulting in the production of some beautiful editions of his collected works. I have one illustrated by Edwin Abbey and published by Harper Brothers in 1882.
The 1903 edition issued by the Elscot Press (in only 260 copies) looks really beautiful too; the first page contains Herrick’s philosophy of life and poetry: Times trans-shifting.
A more timely greeting for the Day: