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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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Following is a modern spelling version, with slight changes to regularize meter:

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 


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37 Responses

  1. Paul Buchheit

    Your modern versions are delightful, Margaret! And thanks for the calendar year history lessons..

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks for your comment, Paul. We have history and art and literature and culture of varied kinds in calendars, since everyone is subject to the seasons! I’m glad you like my little contributions.

      Reply
  2. Satyananda Sarangi

    New Year Greetings, Margaret ma’am!

    Loved the entire piece. In this context, I was reminded of another similar poem by H. W. Longfellow, one of my five Gurus.

    The Poet’s Calendar

    JANUARY
    JANUS am I; oldest of potentates;
    Forward I look, and backward, and below
    I count, as god of avenues and gates,
    The years that through my portals come and go.
    I block the roads, and drift the fields with snow;
    I chase the wild-fowl from the frozen fen;
    My frosts congeal the rivers in their flow,
    My fires light up the hearths and hearts of men.

    FEBRUARY
    I am lustration; and the sea is mine!
    I wash the sands and headlands with my tide;
    My brow is crowned with branches of the pine;
    Before my chariot-wheels the fishes glide.
    By me all things unclean are purified,
    By me the souls of men washed white again;
    E’en the unlovely tombs of those who died
    Without a dirge, I cleanse from every stain.

    MARCH
    I Martius am! Once first, and now the third!
    To lead the Year was my appointed place;
    A mortal dispossessed me by a word,
    And set there Janus with the double face.
    Hence I make war on all the human race;
    I shake the cities with my hurricanes;
    I flood the rivers and their banks efface,
    And drown the farms and hamlets with my rains.

    APRIL
    I open wide the portals of the Spring
    To welcome the procession of the flowers,
    With their gay banners, and the birds that sing
    Their song of songs from their aerial towers.
    I soften with my sunshine and my showers
    The heart of earth; with thoughts of love I glide
    Into the hearts of men; and with the Hours
    Upon the Bull with wreathèd horns I ride.

    MAY
    Hark! The sea-faring wild-fowl loud proclaim
    My coming, and the swarming of the bees.
    These are my heralds, and behold! my name
    Is written in blossoms on the hawthorn-trees.
    I tell the mariner when to sail the seas;
    I waft o’er all the land from far away
    The breath and bloom of the Hesperides,
    My birthplace. I am Maia. I am May.

    JUNE
    Mine is the Month of Roses; yes, and mine
    The Month of Marriages! All pleasant sights
    And scents, the fragrance of the blossoming vine,
    The foliage of the valleys and the heights.
    Mine are the longest days, the loveliest nights;
    The mower’s scythe makes music to my ear;
    I am the mother of all dear delights;
    I am the fairest daughter of the year.

    JULY
    My emblem is the Lion, and I breathe
    The breath of Libyan deserts o’er the land;
    My sickle as a sabre I unsheathe,
    And bent before me the pale harvests stand.
    The lakes and rivers shrink at my command,
    And there is thirst and fever in the air;
    The sky is changed to brass, the earth to sand;
    I am the Emperor whose name I bear.

    AUGUST
    The Emperor Octavian, called the August,
    I being his favorite, bestowed his name
    Upon me, and I hold it still in trust,
    In memory of him and of his fame.
    I am the Virgin, and my vestal flame
    Burns less intensely than the Lion’s rage;
    Sheaves are my only garlands, and I claim
    The golden Harvests as my heritage.

    SEPTEMBER
    I bear the Scales, where hang in equipoise
    The night and day; and when unto my lips
    I put my trumpet, with its stress and noise
    Fly the white clouds like tattered sails of ships;
    The tree-tops lash the air with sounding whips;
    Southward the clamorous sea-fowl wing their flight;
    The hedges are all red with haws and hips,
    The Hunter’s Moon reigns empress of the night.

    OCTOBER
    My ornaments are fruits; my garments leaves,
    Woven like cloth of gold, and crimson dyed;
    I do not boast the harvesting of sheaves,
    O’er orchards and o’er vineyards I preside.
    Though on the frigid Scorpion I ride,
    The dreamy air is full, and overflows
    With tender memories of the summer-tide,
    And mingled voices of the doves and crows.

    NOVEMBER
    The Centaur, Sagittarius, am I,
    Born of Ixion’s and the cloud’s embrace;
    With sounding hoofs across the earth I fly,
    A steed Thessalian with a human face.
    Sharp winds the arrows are with which I chase
    The leaves, half dead already with affright;
    I shroud myself in gloom; and to the race
    Of mortals bring nor comfort nor delight.

    DECEMBER
    Riding upon the Goat, with snow-white hair,
    I come, the last of all. This crown of mine
    Is of the holly; in my hand I bear
    The thyrsus, tipped with fragrant cones of pine.
    I celebrate the birth of the Divine,
    And the return of the Saturnian reign;—
    My songs are carols sung at every shrine,
    Proclaiming “Peace on earth, good will to men.”

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      I appreciate your posting. I never heard of this poem, so I’m looking forward to reading this later on.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      A double cup of New Year greetings to you, Sir Satyananda! Thank you so much for taking the time and making the effort to give us Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Poet’s Calendar. It is exquisite, using the zodiac as framework, but adding much else of poetic worth. I have walked past Longfellow’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in most or all of the months, so for me this is a nostalgic review of nature observed by the great American poet.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I’ll take a bow to that, Michael, and give credit to our stage manager, Evan, for allowing me the opening engagement this year. If I may return a pun, looks like you might someday produce a delicious poem with pie flavors of the months. Happy New Year!

      Reply
  3. Cheryl Corey

    Thank you for this most interesting essay, Margaret. I love these calendar poems. They strike me as earlier versions of the Farmer’s Almanac.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Cheryl, glad you like the essay and poems. When you mention the Farmer’s Almanac, I recall your country poem on making apple butter. Seems every poet has a touch of seasonal craft in him or her. Have a happy new year exercising it!

      Reply
  4. Paul Freeman

    Alas, ‘Dry’ January no longer loves what goblets hold.

    Some fantastic, educative reading, Margaret.

    Thanks for these gems.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Paul. I have some friends here who practice “Dryuary,” but looking it up, I see it started in the UK about ten years ago. Unhappy practice from my point of view, because it breaks up the Twelve Days of Christmas (celebration should go on until Twelfth Night, January 5th). Interestingly, the French who observe “le janvier sec” consider it 30 days long. Everyone may still indulge in champagne at midnight parties as January 1st begins. But there is oatnog instead of eggnog for vegans, and both (if unspiked) could fill goblets while meeting dryquirements. Whatever your pleasure, Happy New Year!

      Reply
  5. Jeff Eardley

    Margaret, a most absorbing lesson today and a great kick-start to the New Year. We have, in our English folk-song tradition, “The January Man” written by Scotsman Dave Goulder on the same theme as all these great words today. Thank you, and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Jeff, for your appreciation, and for tuning me into “The January Man.” It is great contemporary coverage of the year in the folk tradition. I looked through Dave Goulder’s website, and he seems to have quite a few intriguing songs spun out from individual months, as well. A happy new year of poetry and performance to you!

      Reply
  6. Yael

    This is very interesting, thank you Margaret.
    I enjoyed reading your diverse and historical poems and explanations.
    I find calendars to be a fascinating as well as a confusing topic.
    I would like to see a calendar poem which addresses the puzzling question of how sep(7)-tember became the ninth month, oct(8)-ober got to be tenth, nov(9)-ember the eleventh, and dec(10)-ember the twelfth month. I noticed that H.W. Longfellow’s poem which was referenced above in the comments, states that March used to be the first month, and it mentions the Roman emperors who were inserted into the summer months, but it only hints at numbering without elaborating on it.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The Roman year had originally begun in March, so September, October November, and December (septem, octo, novem, decem) were in fact the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months.

      Julius Caesar and his son Augustus Caesar weren’t inserted into the summer months as July and August. The months Quintilis (5th) and Sextilis (6th) were simply renamed Julius and Augustus by the Roman senate to honor the two men.

      The emperor Nero wanted to have month of April renamed for him, and the Senate obliged by calling the month “Neronius,” or “Neronaeus.” After his death the senate rescinded this decree, considering what a murderous creep the guy had been.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Joseph, for explaining month names, and I hope I will make the situation clearer to Yael by saying that there were ONLY TEN MONTHS in the very ancient Roman calendar. The year started in March and ended with December. The Roman King Numa is supposed to have added January and February about 700 BC. Janus was the god of changes and new beginnings, but the Romans were very accustomed to starting the year in the spring, and continued to keep March as the first month for hundreds of years after January and February were introduced. But about 150 BC, the Senate for political reasons decided that January 1 would be the first day of the year, and January thus became the first month. Many Romans still considered January and February to be newfangled winter months rather than real months, and thus held on to the names of September, October, November, and December. In some situations, it’s extremely difficult to dislodge custom! March as the first month persisted during Christian times, because the Incarnation of Jesus Christ happened then. Calendar reform was introduced in the 16th century, with the Church sponsoring, because the seasons of nature had fallen out of accord with the calendar, and numbers of days needed to be readjusted. That was when most European nations accepted January as the first month. Yael, whenever you prefer to celebrate it, have a happy new year!

      Reply
      • Yael

        Thank you very much Joseph and Margaret for the calendar history lessons! Happy New Year to you too. The ancient Roman year only having 10 months explains a lot as far as the naming is concerned. And I’m so happy that April isn’t named after Nero anymore! I’m culturally accustomed to celebrating New Year between December 31 and January 1. But regardless of when it is celebrated, for me it just means that I have to babysit and console my large tough farm dog buddy who melts down into an anxiety stricken shivering puddle of drool and fur, because of the inevitable fireworks custom which accompanies every New Year celebration.

      • Margaret Coats

        Have a veterinarian prescribe doggy tranquilizers for New Year’s and the Fourth of July! He’ll still need company and consolation, but things will be calmer. Tradazone works for our cat, and champagne makes me feel better about the world. Now that you and your dog are through the booming part, I hope both of you see happy days on the horizon.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    This a wonderful presentation of calendar poems, both Margaret’s new ones and the older pieces. Medieval texts love to depict scenes from what was once called “the rolling year,” showing the appropriate weather and the required labors for every season. The medievals seem to have been much more attuned to the rhythms of time than we moderns, who can sit endlessly in a controlled atmosphere and not even notice what’s going on outdoors.

    I remember Sara Coleridge’s poem from many years ago. I even tried to translate the fifth couplet into Middle English:

    May bringeth flokkes of lambkins smalle
    That skippen by hir whyt dames talle.

    In the Middle English poem on the single sheet, I think the ending of the last line should be transcribed this way: “I drynke redde wyne.” Check the manuscript closely and you’ll see that there is a double-d in “redde.” The word “rede” has a different meaning in Middle English.

    I love “Winegrower Works,” just as I share Margaret’s love of good wine.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Joseph, for appreciating this brief account of shorter calendar poems. Some, as you know, run to book length, like the Shepherds’ Calendars of Edmund Spenser and John Clare. You are right that the medieval spelling of the color red should be “redde.” That was my mistake, and I’ll have Mike Bryant change it. I don’t see any mistake in your Middle English translation of Sara Coleridge’s May couplet (correct verb endings and spellings of a competent scribe!). And I’m glad you like “Winegrower Works.” It warmed my heart almost as much as wine does to learn that modern Italians still do not start pruning vines until Saint Vincent’s Day, January 22. I knew about tasting new wine (the “love of Saint John”) on December 27, but who would have thought Italian wine shops make a big thing of bringing out Christmas gift baskets and boxes for Saint Nicholas on December 6? Calendar drinking accords with God’s cosmos! Stock up on enough bottles to overcome any supply chain shortages, and have a very happy new year!

      Reply
  8. C.B. Anderson

    I hope you hate this, or maybe love it for nostalgic reasons, depending on how old you are. This is a faint and rather tawdry echo of the fine poetic tradition you have extended here:

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Never heard it before, so it’s not nostalgia, but I listened to it twice, and I like it! A little tawdry, maybe, but it’s good to see the poetic tradition in a song for 1960s American adolescents attuned to the simple enjoyments of the year. Thanks for posting it here, and wishing you a most enjoyable year to come!

      Reply
  9. Cynthia Erlandson

    Thank you for sharing so much knowledge with us, Margaret. And your calendar poems are delightful — they definitely made me smile!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Any proper calendar makes time for light-hearted amusement! I smile too when I see and read some of the provisions. May there be many smiles and blessings for you and yours during 2023, Cynthia.

      Reply
  10. James A. Tweedie

    Margaret, whenever you say anything, I learn something! Dr. Joe gets it right when he describes how we moderns sit in temperature-controlled spaces to the effect that should we never step outside, the seasons would pass us by without hardly any notice at all!

    The Medieval world was largely pastoral and even the food that you ate was determined by the seasons. And there were also the “seasons” of the church calendar, as well, which added spice to each month and season by offering feast days and other celebrations that divided the year into smaller, even daily standardized parts.

    I want to add mention of the west front of Chartres Cathedral where the northern portal (on the left as you face the front) depicts the ascension of Christ with the inner arch depicting various scenes from the Old Testament and the outer arch depicting the twelve signs of the Zodiac. So one could say that the calendar was literally carved into stone as tribute to God’s good creation.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, James, for noticing the Chartres zodiac placed exactly where it should be. The stars are above things on earth, and thus belong in the outer arch. People in the Middle Ages loved to find order in Creation, and attributed it all to God, quoting the Book of Wisdom 11:21, “Thou hast ordered all things in measure and number and weight.”

      The Church calendar, as you say, provided more order. In Japan, where Catholics lived for 250 years without priests or news from the Universal Church, the faithful created an order of their own, with three important officials: a head person to oversee everything, a water person to perform baptisms, and a calendar person who calculated the dates of feasts and seasons. In the Latin rite, ordinary Sundays were named for the Gospel to be read on each: Sunday of the Good Samaritan, Sunday of the Widow of Naim, and so forth. And every region had its own special days for local saints and heavenly patrons of parish churches.

      Many blessings of the new year be with you and yours!

      Reply
  11. Monika Cooper

    I love this category of poems and your additions to it. The podgy pigs were a squishable surprise.

    George Mackay Brown wrote some wonderful calendar poems too: “Dance of the Months,” for one. He’s often gnomic at his best.

    I’ve just started the New Year with reading Thomson’s Seasons (for the first time). Related concept, but greatly expanded. And full of truffles for the hunter.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Monika, I’m glad you like my little examples. I’ll admit the pigs are podgy to fill out the meter and provide alliteration. But fat pork was comfort food at the time; it was easier to find winter fare for leaner pigs and fatten them up for next year.

      Thanks for mentioning other calendar literature, long and short. Thomson’s Seasons are classic, but I’ll have to look up Brown’s Dance of the Months. They need to move in a circle to be back in place next year, and each one in turn gets a little solo performance, I’ll guess. If they’ll just keep dancing, the whole year will be happy, which is what I wish for your 2023!

      Reply
  12. Brian Yapko

    Margaret, thank you very much indeed for your translation, the explanation behind your translation, and the accompanying essay. I have been fascinated by calendars ever since I was a child so I have very much enjoyed reading not only your work but the comments here as well.

    The poem you translate is a bit spare as you point out, but it highlights how efficient the Latin language is and it also highlights what excellent judgment you bring to the table in expanding some of the imagery and dressing up the meter so that the poem is rendered far more beautiful while staying true to the original author’s intent.

    I very much enjoyed the discussion regarding the naming and renaming of months as well as other aspects of the calendar – a subject which I have always been keenly interested in. As you address this aspect of ancient Roman history I think it’s also worth noting that the Romans under the Julian calendar did not use the anno domini system of reckoning years which we use. Nero had no idea it was the year 64 a.d. when Rome burned, nor did Constantine know it was 313 a.d. when he legalized Christianity. The A.D. system was not invented until 525 a.d. by Dionysius Exiguus, a Byzantine monk. And this reckoning system didn’t really catch on until popularized by the Venerable Bede in the 730s. The Romans would have identified years as either “In the Year of the Consulship of Whoever and Whoever,” or else by dating from the founding of Rome, e.g. ad urbe condita 853 (which corresponds to the anno domini year 100.)

    A fascinating subject and wonderful poetry. Margaret, thank you for this and a very happy new year to you!

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      A small point about Dionysius Exiguus — he did the best he could, but scholars today are pretty much in agreement that he miscalculated the date of Christ’s Nativity by about six or seven years. So Jesus was most likely born in 6 B.C. or 7 B.C., as we number the years now.

      I always use “A.D.” when speaking of a year, and I studiously avoid the obnoxious “C.E.” devised by politically correct meddlers. But the most flamboyant abbreviation is “A.R.S.H.” used by the Catholic commentator Ann Barnhardt. It stands for “Anno Reparationis Salvationis Humanae” (in the year of the restoration of human salvation).

      Happy A.R.S.H. 2023!

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Joe, I too use AD and avoid CE. If I have to speak where someone has written or spoken CE, I say “Christian Era,” and I have noticed others doing the same. It is nonsense for anyone to claim that the “common” system has been used for hundreds of years because a single instance of “common” was found in English about 300 years ago, with no discoverable name attached to the obscure source. In fact, English writers with classical training are much more likely to have used the AUC system dating years from the founding of Rome, during recent centuries.

      • Brian Yapko

        Thank you for this additional information, Joseph. I had heard 4 B.C. a long time ago, but I imagine scholarship has fine-tuned the details. I cannot abide C.E. and am glad to know I’m not the only one. A.R.S.H. sounds good to me, so I’m going to start using it. Happy A.R.S.H. 2023 to you as well!

    • Margaret Coats

      Brian, I’m glad you liked the essay and particularly the opening translation. It demonstrates how some persons like calendar poetry so much they feel compelled to compose it on calendars where it does not appear! I too appreciate how much the commentors, including you, have contributed to the discussion here. Happy New Year to you!

      Reply
  13. Tom Rimer

    Part of the real pleasure of reading these poems on line is to see how much one can learn from the wise and often enthusiastic comments made by your fellow readers. For example, I myself knew nothing of the eloquent Longfellow poems until I read them here.

    Your opening poem has a kind of rugged simplicity I find very appealing, more so than the second poem, which reduces all the wonders of the seasons to the presence of the author, “I,” which, for me, shrinks the power inherent in the images.

    In any case, thank you and your commentators for educating me about these calendar poems. I don’t believe that in the traditions I have studied –Japanese and Chinese — there exist any such comparable series, but I hope, with your vast knowledge, you might prove me wrong.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Tom, on my own behalf, and for the commentors here who have indeed filled this post with much varied calendar information and poetry. I am especially glad you like the first poem I present, as this is its first publication! A 1533 Latin missal in England did not get much use following the death of Henry VIII in 1547, and I am surprised that the volume survived.

      You would know far better than I if there are any months-of-the-year poems in Japanese or Chinese, but we have to recall that if so, they might be simple educational items meant for children, like that of Sara Coleridge above. The only month-by-month collection I remember, now that you mention it, is Edith Shiffert’s “Kyoto Dwelling” (1987, I think). However, this is not 12 poems, but a whole book of Edith’s haiku written in English, and arranged with illustrations according to the months. One haiku is chosen from each group to accompany the illustration, so that might suffice. Still, the chosen poems do not concern any occupation or labor, as do the poems I highlight in this essay.

      A happy new year moving through the months to you and yours!

      Reply
  14. Laura Deagon

    What comes to mind is that we tend to be so busy to really appreciate the changing months and seasons. We’re too far removed from the sowing and harvesting that was once so influential in daily living. I enjoyed the content tremendously.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I am glad to remind us of all we may be missing in vineyards and fields! We can try to participate in seasonal works by whatever we do in yards and gardens. Happy new year to you and yours, Laura.

      Reply

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