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The Database of Ornament

These were names given to the Spring months
at a famous time, some hundred years ago,
when men in the April folly of their hearts
dreamed that they could make all things new.
But the new names, which are not without
merit, have passed away with many other
things; the old names remain, and they are
well enough. For is not March a month of
warring, of elemental strife, when the sun
gains his well-assured annual victory; and is
not April indeed the month of opening ? The earth opens and
the seedlings lift their heads, drowsily nodding ; the buds open,
and the leaves unfold; the flowers open, and the newly-awakened
insects visit them: it is the time of opening—of eggs and of
the womb, of the song of birds and of the heart of man.

Nature’s optimism is too strong for man’s pessimism, as the
sun for the frost: the Springtide is irresistible. They bound
Dionysus fast, but as well try to stop the rush of sap in the
vine. Zagreon they cut in pieces, but he had to be put to-
gether again. Gloomy Dis robbed Demeter of that charming
girl Proserpina, but she was too good to lose, she had to come
again out of Hades. Baldur the beautiful was slain with the
wintry mistletoe, but if he did not come to life again, he was
at least well avenged by another of his inexhaustible race.

Our favourite Dornröschen was pierced by a cold spindle, but
she slept and did not die, and the Prince kissed her awake.
Likewise, in the torrid zone, where the winter conquers by heat,
the Phoenix was consumed, only to rise triumphant from the
ashes of his burning. The Gospel of the Resurrection is
irresistible. The corn of wheat that seems to die brings forth
much fruit.

Demeter has for long been mourning in our midst—a Mater
Dolorosa— seeking her lost child, often angry and terrible,
often plaintive and tearful, veiling her lost beauty without
hiding her deep agony. Yet all the while she has shown the
strong virtue of maternity. For without food or drink, explain
it who will, she has nursed the tender life of Keleos, and
the youth flourishes bravely. The rise of temperature has
quickened the seeds, the ferments have dissolved the hard
stores into soft foods, the very minions of Death— the Bacteria
— have helped to loose the bands of birth, and the seedlings are
rising from the ground. For now the anger of Demeter is
stayed, Proserpina has returned from the kingdom of the
dead, mother and daughter rejoice together. And in a world
where all is so wonderful, ‘so full of death, so bordering upon
Heaven,’ is there anything so wonderful as this meeting of life
and death, as this raising of what we call dead into what we
call living, as this power that plants have to win the sun’s
aid that they may by secret alchemy transmute the beggarly
elements of water, soil, and air into the rich wine of life ? We
can understand the dying Keats saying that of all things the
most beautiful was the growing of the flowers.

Pan, the warm spring breeze, is with us again; and everywhere
we hear his merry pipes. Now he is among the rustling
withered reeds, quickening them to leafage, and setting the
birds a-singing; now he is over the rippling lake, swifter than
the swallow. Yesterday we heard him in the glen, good-
humouredly carrying a naughty cuckoo’s tidings to one of her
many lovers; to-day he roams by the lake-side, and sets the

daffodils dancing. But his pipes are not always merry, for he
sighs through the gorge and among the crags, where Boreas,
last winter, so ruthlessly slew Pitys, whom Pan loved. See the
God: who ever did? But do we not catch in these floating
spring-webs the fringe of his flowing robe, as men saw it of old
time when they called it Godsamer.

With the piper-major has come all his retinue. For the myths
are all mixed as is the medley of voices; now it is Pan, and
again it is the Pied Piper who gathers life in his train ; now it
is Zephyrus playing with Chloris, and again it is Orpheus whom
none can resist. But the fact at least is plain, and that is what
concerns us; the birds, who went forth wailing, have returned
rejoicing, and whether it be the naughty cuckoo, who has
hoaxed all the poets, or the dove who is morally not much
better, or the stork on the roof-trees, or the nightingale
melodious, or the lark at Heaven’s gate—everywhere from the
orchestra which weekly gathers strength, we hear but one
motif, ‘Hither, my love, here; here I am, here; the winter is
over and gone; arise, my love, my fair one, arise and come

Dornröschen, the Sleeping Beauty, has been kissed awake
again. One after another had striven in vain to win a way
through the barriers which encircled the place of her sleeping,
but at length the Prince and Master came, to whom all was
easy—the Sunshine of the first Spring day. And as he kissed
the Beauty, all the buglers blew, both high and low, the cawing
rooks on the trees, and the croaking frogs by the pond, each
according to his strength and skill. All through the palace
there was re-awakening: of the men-at-arms, whether bears
or hedgehogs; of the night-watchmen, known to us as bats; even
of the carpet-sweepers, like dormice and hamsters—all were
re-awakened. The messengers went forth, the dragon-flies like
living flashes of light, the bustling humble-bees refreshing
themselves at the willow-catkins by the way, and the moths
flying softly by night. I fancy that even the scullery-boy got

his long-delayed box on the ear, for I saw the snail draw in his
horns as the Cook awoke.

These are the days of youth — of seedlings, buds, and young
blossom, of tadpoles, nestlings, and young lambs. Of which,
as of children, there are two thoughts which one cannot help

The first is a thought of Easter, of the forgiveness of Nature,
of its infinite power of making a fresh start. We saw the vine
robbed of all its leaves—transfigured in their dying—and hard-
bound by the frost; but Dionysus smiled at his captors, and
now the tender vines put forth a sweet smell. We saw the sloe
in winter, bare as a bleached skeleton in the desert; but now
it is covered with white blossom, which we almost mistake for
snow still unmelted on the hills. We saw the hedger strip the
hawthorn till it was pitiful in its nakedness, but now it is
covered with bursting buds, and it will soon be the time of
May-blossom. From amid the withered leaves the wood-
anemones are rocking like foam-balls on a wreck-strewn sea ;
and from the ditches, lately black and empty, the marsh mari-
golds have raised their golden cups to be filled with sunshine.
We wished the birds farewell in Autumn, and now they are
gathering to us again, and every lark that rises voices forth a
promise. We saw the butterflies fade away with the withering
flowers, but once more they suck the blossoms; the shore-
pools and the pond-pools were but a little while ago empty of
apparent life or thickly frozen over, and now each is beginning
to be like a busy city. For as surely as the old things pass
away, so all things are made new; and from what seemed a
sealed tomb life has arisen indeed.

But, if we can express the second thought, it will be seen that
there is a deeper sense in which these are the days of new
things. It is the time of marrying, pairing, and mating; it is
the time of giving birth to new lives; or it is the time when
new lives, begun long since, indeed begin to be. In all these
young lives there is what is new ; no one of them is quite like

its parents, but each carries with it the promise of better or
worse: in the phrase of the biologists, this is the time of
variations. It may be, indeed, that the newness is simply that
what was of evil in the parents has been forgiven in their
children; but sometimes it is that the little child leads the
race, as was said long ago. It may be, too, that the promise is
never fulfilled, for the playful lamb grows into a very stolid sheep
(man has the way of making young things stolid); the active-
minded chick becomes a very matter-of-fact hen; the ‘ promis-
ing ‘ young anthropoid, a care-worn, ‘abruti,’ and rather cross-
grained ape. Need we draw the moral? The fact— at once
hopeful and tragic—is that the young life is often ahead of its
race. If the promise be fulfilled, then the world makes progress,
and this is Spring.

But come, let us light the Beltane fires and keep the Floralia!
for while Biology is well, to enjoy the Spring is better; and, as
was said by one who knew no winter in his year, or at least
betrayed none,

        ‘To make this earth our hermitage
        A cheerful and a changeful page,
        God’s bright and intricate device
        Of days and seasons doth suffice.’

                                                                                                J. ARTHUR THOMSON.


MLA citation:

Thomson, J. Arthur. “‘Germinal, Floreal, Prairial’.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 1, Spring 1895, pp. 21-25. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.