The Vernal Ides



    IT is one of those happy phrases in which Emerson abounds, fresh and racy without being slipshod, homely but distinguished. What suggestions does it not carry of suns and warm breezes, of mounting sap and wild bird calls, and the purple evening hills!
    There is a day in February which marks off the gray time of winter from the green time of spring as clearly as a line on a calendar. Even the brightest December sunshine gives no ray of hope; it is relentless, forbidding, unpromising; the sky foretells only an eternity of changeless cold; one could never look upon it and prophesy the miracle of summer. But by and by there comes a February morning, when the frost may not be less keen, nor the [Page 63] sunshine more bright, yet there is a different expression on the face of the elements. Hope has been born somewhere in the far south, and there are premonitions of change, portents of liberation and joy. It is the first faint rumour of spring. And though the blizzard may sweep down again out of the north in the next hour, we know his victory will not be lasting; “the vernal ides” are on their way, the old Aprilian triumph is at hand. A little patience more, a few weeks or days, and we shall behold the first signals of their advance; the buds will be on the trees; a sudden wild song, fleeting but unmistakable, will break across the noon and be gone again almost before we can recognize it. And then at last we shall wake up in some golden morning, with a blessed song-sparrow singing his litany of joy in our enchanted ears, and know the vernal ides at last are here.
    It is only in the north that we fully love the spring. After these iron months of unremitting struggle with the giant cold, the spirit is [Page 64] glad when relief comes at length; and the season of returning vitality has a festal charm all its own. The day when the river breaks up is a holiday in the heart, whether we work or not. All winter long it has lain there before our doors, a broad, white road between the hills, swept with gusts of sparkling drift in the hard, bleak sunlight, gleaming bluish and mystical while the enormous moon stood over its solitary wastes, – dumb, prisoning, implacable. But at last deliverance arrives, and the bumping, crunching, jamming ice-floe is starting seaward with a thousand confused voices, while the old faithful blue appears once more glimmering and golden and glad. The first dip of the canoe’s bow into that familiar flood, the first stroke of the paddle, the first long sunny day afloat among the willow stems in the overflowed meadow lands, and the first call of the golden-wing, lone and high, over wood and lake! The gladness of such a season comes only to those who have endured the gray storms, the low, cold suns [Page 65] and the purple vaulted night, where everything is sealed with the slumber of the frost.
    Little wonder that the vernal ides should fill so large a place in the northern imagination. Long inheritance of April happiness has given us that peculiar malady we call spring fever; has given us, too, a special spiritual sympathy or wonder in the reviving year. This truly religious sense has made itself widely felt in the racial expression, in the arts of poetry and painting.

“Oh, to be in England, now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England sees some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England — now!”

These “Home Thoughts from Abroad,” of Browning, or Mr. Kipling’s lyrical cry of the exile in India, with their refrain, “It is spring [Page 66] in England now,” embody the northern sentiment, a worship which may be pagan, but is certainly lovely and wholesome, for —

        “Spring still makes spring in the mind,
        When sixty years are told.”

    Of the mood which comes with the vernal ideas, are born those aspirations and outpourings which have come to be a byword under the name of spring poetry. Perhaps the fact that the celebration is overdone to so ridiculous an excess is really no discredit, though one finds a new note seldom enough. Yet I wonder whether the vernal ides are truly a time favourable to artistic creation. If there are seasons of the mind, its April should be a month of starting and growth, of extended horizons, renewed vigour, fresh inspirations. But the month of fruitage is September or October, and the achievements of art are ripened to perfection in the Indian summer of the soul. It is not under the immediate stress of a great emotion that a great work is produced [Page 67]; most often it is the result of the long, silent cogitation, when the mind sits in autumnal luxury thinking to itself. In the vernal ides who would spend an hour on remembrance? When those days return we are too thankful for mere life, too sated with the rapturous zest of being, to dwell with fondling care over the swarming creations of fancy. And yet, there is our father Chaucer with that never stale opening of the prologue to his wondrous tales.
    Of the inspirational value of these vernal ides there can be no doubt. They come back to us year by year with messages and reminders from the unfailing sources of life; they are heathen Druidic Easter days, symbols of immortal gladness and strength. When they dawn, we must bring out the flame-coloured robe of pleasure, and leave our old black garment of distrust, our overshoes of doubt, and our umbrella of skepticism in the closet. No pessimist must stir abroad when April comes. But we must all stand with bright [Page 68] faces and clapping hands, when the long procession with banners of green moves up from the south. It is the feast of the vernal ides [Page 69].