One of the oldest surviving poems in written form is the Middle English poem Wynter awakeneth all my care. It is thought the poem was written in about 1340, before even Chaucer wrote.
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As A Clerk of Oxford wrote on their blog,
A translation is inadequate, though; a lot of the power of the poem is in the rhymes, and the untranslatable negatives, especially ‘Nou hit is, and nou hit nys, / Also hit ner nere, ywys’. There are some clever touches, such as the phrase waxeth bare: ‘waxen’ can just mean ‘to become’, but it usually means specifically to ‘grow’ (like the moon, which waxes and wanes; do we use the word in any other context now?). But when leaves fall, waxing bare, it’s the exact opposite of growth; it’s death and depletion.
From the Library of the University of Rochester, we read,
Al that gren me graveth grene. “All that seed men bury unripe.” … “to put something under the ground, cover with earth; bury; plant.” There is no MED gloss for gren, a much-discussed crux, sometimes emended to grein, “grain, seed” (suggestive of John 12:24–25: “Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling to the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”).
Regarding the world’s joy…Spring is certainly a joyous time. Shoots and leaves burst forth. Time-lapse photography on the nature channels show flowers veritably bounding from the soil. Flora’s vivid early spring colors bring smiles to all who see.
Summer simmers into a dreamy and languid time. One’s cares still crowd the thoughts, but they are less potent, their robustness competing with sunny joys and relaxing pursuits.
Fall’s surge of color and riotous leaf swarms in wild wind both delight and vex. Stooping to pick up a brightly colored leaf, craning to see the Vee-shape of birds scuttling south, glancing at rushing clouds and crystal skies, breathing the crisp air…
Sadly, these momentary flares of color and movement are soon doused in the harsh embrownment of the darkling season. Winter. No better description of the ground and sky at late fall exists, in my opinion, than Thomas Hardy’s opening scene of The Return of the Native–
A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment. Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting out the sky was as a tent which had the whole heath for its floor.
The heaven being spread with this pallid screen and the earth with the darkest vegetation, their meeting-line at the horizon was clearly marked. In such contrast the heath wore the appearance of an instalment of night which had taken up its place before its astronomical hour was come: darkness had to a great extent arrived hereon, while day stood distinct in the sky.
Winter’s dark death, dearth of color and lack of life…
Nou hit is, and nou hit nys, Also hit ner nere, ywys; (Now it is and not it isn’t, as if it never had been, indeed!). And yet, what a time, the bleak midwinter, to praise the Lord for all life! He has stripped away the distracting color and movement and delights of flora, and shown us His manifest care. In the bleak midwinter, one that awakeneth all my sorrow, He sustains all life, precious but hidden in His hand. “All passes but God’s will”.
How kind of Him to allow this fallow time so as to see new life resurrecting in spring, just as He came to life from the dead. The frigid season is one that entombs itself but then again bursts with life and joy and color soon enough. “It all goes to nought”, for only a season. The grace of this cyclical and everlasting flourishing is bounteous and beauteous. God is in control!
For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17).
The supremacy of Christ, spring, summer, fall, and winter, everlasting supremacy and everlasting life. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)
Jesus, help that this be known,
And shield us from hell,
For I know not whither I’ll go,
Nor how long here dwell.
No matter. The dormant seed entombed in ice, fleeting on scudding wind, or falling unnoticed on harsh road, I am that unripe seed, not knowing how long here I dwell. But secure am I that as wynter comes, even a death, I will spring forth in joy and color and movement from the very grave that seeks to grip me fast, but never can. The springtime of the eternity in Jesus awaits.