By Byron Beynon
What’s the weather like today where you are? Is it raining? How do you feel when you hear the rain? The sun maybe shining, and a gentle breeze massages your face. Giant clouds inhabit the sky above you, faces or objects begin to take shape before your very eyes as your imagination feeds on weather’s images.
Novelists, poets, dramatists, film-makers, artists, musicians, have all been inspired by the kaleidoscope and mysterious moods weather has kindled before and within us. I live in south-west Wales, where most of the weather conditions come from the Atlantic bringing rain. Even the trees, growing in open, exposed places, lean towards the north-east because their sap runs weaker on the windward side.
The poet Ted Hughes in his essay entitled “Wind and Weather” wrote “Have you noticed how your mood depends on the weather? All living things are natural barometers, and change as the weather changes … we experience these changes in our bodily chemistry as changes in our feelings.” He goes on to say that “The great American poetess, Emily Dickinson, has many wonderful poems about various weathers” he chose the poem which begins “There came a wind like a bugle” – as one of her best on weather regarding the landscape coming alive “as if the touch of the wind and the strange light had turned it into a nightmare.”
In this new anthology edited by the poet Alice Oswald and the Penguin Classics editor Paul Keegan, we have a wide and thought-provoking selection of prose and poetry about the weather, reactions both formal and fleeting, actual responses, found in journals and jottings, diaries and letters. Whether it be rain, volcanic ash, nuclear dust, snow, light, fog, hurricanes, flood, dusk and dawn, we find a flow of reactions. We read writers from across the ages, giving their responses and feelings on climate from Ovid to Elizabeth Bishop, Virginia Woolf to Pliny the Younger, Charles Baudelaire to Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens, Dafydd Ap Gwilym to Paul Muldoon and many others.
In the preface we hear of William Hazlit’s essay on “My First Acquaintance with Poets”, he describes his walking holiday along the Bristol Channel with his new friend:”A thunder-storm came on while we were at the inn, and Coleridge was running out bare-headed to enjoy the commotions of the elements….”. Further along we read about Daniel Defoe’s report of the Great Storm of 1703, that “the air was full of Meteors and fiery Vapours”. In his journal for 20th July 1778 the following details are given by Gilbert White “Much thunder. Some people in the village were struck down by the storm, but not hurt. The stroke seemed to them like a violent push or shove. The ground is well-soaked. Wheat much lodged. Frogs migrate from the ponds.”
Open the antholody at any page and you will find something to delight and fascinate. From the fourteenth century, Yoshida Kenko writes in his “Essays in Idleness” – “One morning after a pleasant fall of snow I sent a letter to someone with whom I had business, but failed to mention the snow. The reply was droll: “Do you suppose I can pay any attention to someone so pervserse as to write a letter with no word of inquiry about how I am enjoying the snow? I am most disappointed in you.” Now that the author of that letter is dead, even so trivial an incident sticks in my mind.”
The poet Louis MacNeice creates atmosphere in his 1935 poem “Snow” – the opening begins:
In his journal of 1892 the artist Edvard Munch writes:”I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – I felt a wave of sadness – the sky suddenly turned blood-red. I stopped, leaned against the railing, tired to death – I looked out over the flaming clouds like blood and swords – the blue-black fjord and city – my friends walked on – I stood there trembling with angst – and I felt as though a vast, endless Scream passed through nature.”