Groom, N. (2013) The Seasons, An Elegy for the Passing of the Year Atlantic Books ISBN 978 1 84887 161 8
Nick Groom, Professor of English at the University of Exeter, has written a (dauntingly) rich and encyclopaedic book. It’s an unabashed celebration of the seasons and the folklore associated with them.
After the rather academic and densely researched opening chapters on the complexity and fluidity of our calendar he structures the book as a journey through the seasons, an almanac if you like, from spring to winter, touching as he goes on aspects of national identity and national attitudes to such things as the weather, church, agricultural lore and superstition.
For millennia, the passing seasons and their rhythms were central to our very existence. There was a time when the lore described here was far from quaint romanticism, when reading the wrong signs or planting at the wrong moment would have proved catastrophic…
But, what does the old lore mean to us now that we lead increasingly atomised and urban lives and our weather becomes ever more unpredictable or extreme? Will it matter if we no longer notice, or even hear the first cuckoo call of spring or rejoice in the mellow fruits of harvest festival?
Absolutely it will!
Because if the lore fades, we risk losing both a sense of national, cultural and personal identity and our connectedness to the natural world that already hangs by a thread and so often seems irrelevant, odd or out of reach. We lose our belief systems, our customs and our knowledge of locality at our peril.
Nick Groom strives to draw us in to his fight by offering us a dazzling cornucopea of folklore, facts, songs and saints’ days mixed with bursts of polemic and a copious amount of poetry. It’s a rich fare, and one that’s probably best digested across the seasons, a section at a time.
It’s a book that rewards a slow reading, dip in and savour it.
This is a lyrical book, and a profoundly articulate polemic, it’s central concern being the troubled nature of modern (lost) Englishness. Nick Groom’s fight is with the modern day dragons of uniformity, passivity, blandness, and the repression of globalism and commercialization.
He’s not simply arguing for a vague resuscitation of Victorian revivalism or for Morris Dancers gathering with flags and bells on every street corner but for a celebration and resurgence of localism, local diversity and character embedded in landscape and place.
The neglected traditions, the literature and the culture of England’s seasons are not just quaint archeology. They need to be protected, preserved, and researched, and also to be restored, revived and lived. If the English people, the lion that never roared, abdicated this responsibility, such expressions of national identity that remain will be appropriated by political extremists or taken over by commercial interests. It is time to act, and St. George’s Day seems to be a good day on which to do so. It could be a national day of local customs – some archaic, others yet to emerge. It could bring communities together by celebrating local diversity and character – individuality embedded in landscape and place, its history and its wildlife – all across the country. Rather than trying to kickstart a national celebration with one brand of beer and one red-and-white flag, At. George’s Day offers an opportunity to recognize difference and variety – strikingly appropriate to a saint who had a dazzlingly multifarious nature long before he simplified into a mere dragon-slayer. p114
I for one wish him luck.