. Calendar Poems by Margaret Coats January loves what goblets hold, And February complains of cold. March plows the fields with furrows new, And April nurtures each flower’s hue. Dew on the grass, and leaves above, prepare May’s beds for sylvan love. June produces its fresh, sweet hay; July makes oats and pipes to play. August matures the ears of grain; September crushes red grapes that stain. October is sowing next year’s sheaves; November despoils the woods of leaves. December, by slaughtering podgy pigs, good pork for winter food receives. . Latin original Pocula janus amat Et februus algeo clamat Martius arua fodit Et aprilis florida nutrit Ros et frons nemorum mayo sunt fomes amorum Dat junius fena Julio refecatur avena Augustus spicas September conterit uvas Seminat october Spoliat virgulta november Duerit hime cibum porcum mactando december . I found this Latin poem handwritten on the top margins of twelve calendar pages in an altar missal printed at York (England) in 1533. It is a “labors of the months” lyric, a kind of poem that goes back to classical antiquity. It abbreviates matter found in longer poems such as Hesiod’s Works and Days and Vergil’s Georgics, with Ovid’s Fasti being the first to use a month-by-month framework. Such lyrics correspond to a tradition in the visual arts, best known from modern reproductions of lavishly illustrated medieval books of hours, but also found in wall paintings, stained glass, floor mosaics, and wood carvings. The writer of the poem felt a need to put the labors of the months in the calendar of his plain printed missal. Not an accomplished poet, he wrote some rough rhyming lines with sketchy images. His choice of works to mention for each month is traditional, within a range of options depending on local activities. To make good sense of his verses and give my translation consistent meter, I lengthen the lines a bit, and add some clarifications. For example, “avena” in the July line can mean “oats” or “an oaten pipe” like those conventionally played by shepherds and pastoral poets. As the writer may have meant to suggest both, I put both in my July line. The choice of courting as the May labor suits the merry month of springtime, but also refers to astrology. Calendar illustrations often give a glimpse of the heavens while depicting works on earth. Their zodiac begins in January with Aquarius, making May the month under Gemini. Rather than twins, medieval artists show a pair of lovers. Another poet, not inscribing calendar pages but writing on a single sheet, lists the months in decorative boxes. He has no room to depict workers, but draws the tools they use between his lines. Here are the words from his Middle English poem of the 15th century. . Januar By thys fyre I warme my handys Februar And with my spade I delfe my landys Marche Here I sette my thinge to springe Aprile And here I here the fowles singe Maij I am as lyght as byrde in bowe Junij And I wede my corne well I-now Julij With my scythe my mede I mawe Auguste And here I shere my corne full lowe September With my flayll I erne my brede October And here I sawe my whete so rede November At Martynesmasse I kylle my swine December And at Cristesmasse I drynke redde wine . Following is a modern spelling version, with slight changes to regularize meter: . January By this fire I warm my hands February And with my spade I delve my lands March Here I set my thing to spring April And here I hear the fowls to sing May I am as light as bird on bough June And well I weed my corn just now July My scythe and I my meadow mow August And here I shear my corn full low September With my flail I earn my bread October And here I sow my wheat so red November At Martinmas I kill my swine December At Christmastime I drink red wine . Martinmas is the feast day of Saint Martin on November 11. Calendar poems and pictures with religious reference suggest consciousness of living and working through sacred time. Even poems lacking explicit religious words see labor as truly meaningful because it takes part in the established cycle of the cosmos. In addition, it is the duty assigned by God to Adam, and thus an earthly means to reach heaven. All social classes have their roles in monthly labors, as best seen from sets of pictures. In any month, a person from the upper classes may appear performing the work of supervision or management, or exercising a duty of charity. And when it comes to the pleasures of spring and the year-end feasting, all ranks of society mingle. There may even be festive role-reversal, with peasants as Epiphany king and queen, served by individuals wearing the rich clothes of a higher station. There is a wide variety of “labors” poems, in part due to different kinds of agriculture or animal husbandry practiced in different locations. But the intended audience and special interests also create variations. Sara Coleridge’s “The Garden Year” (1834) addresses children and focuses on the English flower garden. . January brings the snow, Makes our feet and fingers glow. February brings the rain, Thaws the frozen lake again. March brings breezes, loud and shrill, To stir the dancing daffodil. April brings the primrose sweet, Scatters daisies at our feet. May brings flocks of pretty lambs Skipping by their fleecy dams. June brings tulips, lilies, roses, Fills the children’s hands with posies. Hot July brings cooling showers, Apricots and gillyflowers. August brings the sheaves of corn, Then the harvest home is borne. Warm September brings the fruit; Sportsmen then begin to shoot. Fresh October brings the pheasant; Then to gather nuts is pleasant. Dull November brings the blast; Then the leaves are whirling fast. Chill December brings the sleet, Blazing fire and Christmas treat. . Not much labor here, it seems, but there are clear elements of the “labors” tradition, adjusted for location. May has the English lambing season, months away from autumn lambs in more temperate areas. And to replace courtly medieval hawking in May, there is September game bird shooting, even specifying that the English pheasant season does not begin until October. Work like that in the medieval poems starts at harvest time—from the child’s point of view. Children don’t realize nuts need to be gathered as winter feed for the livestock not slaughtered. This poet’s goal for them is simple satisfaction with a material world comfortably working as it should. To adapt the labors of the months for my own particular interest in wine, I looked for a greater concentration on viticulture in French and Italian poems and pictures. But laborers in this kind of art do not specialize as much as we do. I never found more than five months' worth of reference to vines, wines, or accessories. The point of documenting labors is to offer an image of the perfect economy overall. Therefore, living in an area where suburbs are encroaching on vineyards formerly operated by Italians, I rely with gratitude on the modern month-to-month information summarized by Roberto Giuliani at LaVINIum, Rivista di Vino e Cultura. My poem can be recognized as modern because disasters like storms and pests are ignored by the idealistic tradition. But I am happy to say that Giuliani carefully notes several religious feast days as important to today’s laborers in Italian vineyards. . Winegrower Works To January joyfully drink—although soon Saint Vincent, our patron, proclaims we should prune. Our February care in the cellar controls Fermentation in barrels, and makes useful poles. We aerate the ground as March breezes bring cheer: On bare timeworn canes the first buds now appear. Amidst April leaves and fresh flowers we pray That hailstorms and beetles will stay far away. In May we quell mildew and pull out the weeds, Then fertilize deep to meet grapegrowing needs. June’s jumbled first clusters of varying sorts We thin, fixing good ones to firmer supports. July brings on fruit-set; our efforts enhance, By trimming, prime health and a fuller expanse. August veraison adds color to grapes; We clip to aid airflow through thick leafy capes. In September the sumptuous harvest begins; We crush for the juice, saving seed, stem, and skins. October makes wine and refines grapeseed oil; We scatter the pomace dregs over the soil. November drops leaves; late autumnal pursuits Are to tidy the vineyard and cover the roots. In December Saint Nicholas sells the new wine For Christmastide tasting with John the Divine. Fine wine proves our labors of all are the best: Every day except one, our production is blessed. . . Margaret Coats lives in California. She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University. She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.