Weather or Not

Last week, contemplating a drive south, I looked up road closures on a couple of routes. At the same time, I was reading Elizabeth Taylor’s “In a Summer Season”:

“As a person much confided in, she had learnt how to let her mind wander a little on a tether, and now she looked out of the taxi at the sun flashing high on buildings and thought what a lovely late afternoon it was. The trees in Portman Square were hazy with buds and the sky was as pale as pearls. It was the first spring-like day there had been; behind were months of icy winds, little bouts of snow, thawings, then freezings, a wretched time since Christmas.”

Page 15, Virago Press 1983 edition, first published 1961.

I look out my window. Here in Portland, not to be confused with Portman Square, we have not yet come to “this first sunny evening of the year, the house had all its windows thrown open, as if of itself, like a flower, it had responded to the sun” (p. 19).

Elizabeth Bowen’s “In the Heat of the Day” also begins in London with weathering words, but at the other end of the cycle:

“The season was late for an outdoor concert; already leaves were drifting on to the grass stage – here and there one turned over, crepitating as though in the act of dying, and during the music some more fell. … War had made them idolise day and summer; night and autumn were enemies.”

Page 3, first Anchor Books edition, July 2002, originally published 1948.

With every passing day, the past recedes like a tide, images of shells, seaweed, colorful beach towels – open umbrellas grow out of the sand like sea anemones, barnacle dressed rocks litter the floor of our thoughts, night and day, and the waves break farther and farther out but go on and on “like the drip drip drip of the raindrops,” Cole Porter said. But to get back to the Bowen: “The incoming tide was evening. Glass-clear darkness, in which each leaf was defined, already formed in the thicket behind the orchestra and was the other element of the stage” (p. 4).

Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Death of the Heart” also begins in weather:

“That morning’s ice, no more than a brittle film, had cracked and was now floating in segments. These tapped together or, parting, left channels of dark water, down which swans in slow indignation swam. The island stood in frozen woody brown dusk: it was now between three and four in the afternoon. A sort of breath from the clay, from the city outside the park, condensing, made the air unclear; through this, the trees round the lake soared frigidly up. Bronze cold of January bound the sky and the landscape; the sky was shut to the sun – but the swans, the rims of the ice, the pallid withdrawn Regency terraces had an unnatural burnish, as though cold were light. There is something momentous about the height of winter. Steps rang on the bridges, and along the black walks. This weather had set in; it would freeze harder tonight.”

Page 3, Anchor Books, May 2000. First published 1938.