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This report is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

Letter from Norfolk
Mocking February
Martin Caseley
The song of the lawnmower is again heard throughout the land, as the weather continues to confound expectations. This time a year ago, the Beast from the East snowed us all in; now, we bask (according to the Met Office) in a West African plume of heat. ‘A calm of pleasure listens round / And almost whispers winter bye’, says John Clare, in ‘February’ in The Shepherd’s Calendar.

This is good, because that other far-off scratching sound is the political war of attrition continuing, igniting hidden seams of anger all round. The smoke rising from this battlefield threatens to choke all rational debate. Cycling the lanes is one way of escaping the Babel of raised voices. After nearly a week of record temperatures and sunny afternoons, the trees are exhaling. Crops look complacent in the fields and the hedges flaunt glossy ivy.

Streams run and ponds stand, but the old tag of ‘February fill-dyke’ seems wildly inappropriate. When I lived in Worcestershire, B.W. Leader’s Victorian landscape of the same name often seemed to illustrate the watery ditches and footpaths: damp cottages and rutted gateways were the order of the day, but now there are calm, dry lanes at lunchtime and dust rises in the wake of Land Rovers as they crunch past.

February, like November, seems a familiar Victorian vista in poems and paintings. Alice Meynell’s poem ‘In February’, to take a generic example, hymns a ‘colourless sky of folded showers’ only for its prophetic power when it is related to the coming ...

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