A WEATHER REPORT
The British Empire owed much to the desire
to find a more congenial climate,
a better cup of tea, and someone to make it.
Much bloodshed and horror
over some rain and a cold wind.
Shelley was obsessed with wind, Wordsworth
fretted over clouds, and Keats
had a thing for mist and damp, which didn’t
do his fragile health much good at all.
Samuel Palmer painted golden corn
in a permanent summer twilight, while Turner
was very much excited by violent storms as much
as Constable was by a light drizzle and the sort
of dappled light that used to set Gerard
Manley Hopkins off; on the whole, English
Romanticism has always been a conversation
about the weather.
The year 1816, for example,
the Year of No Summer when Mount Tambora
in the Dutch East Indies erupted and plunged
the Northern Hemisphere into volcanic winter
of famine – now that was a thing indeed: no
oats for the horses led to the invention
of the bicycle, and in North America
the settling of the Midwest, and the apocalyptic
gloom probably spurred on the Book of Mormon.
Meanwhile, in Villa Diodati, overlooking
Lake Geneva, the ungenial weather kept inside
Byron, Shelley, Dr Polidori, and Mary Shelley
(who wasn’t having any of their male nonsense),
so to entertain themselves they got to writing,
hence we have Mary’s Frankenstein (Yay!),
Byron’s poem “Darkness”, and Polidori
stole Byron’s “A Fragment” and wrote The Vampyre
which later inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula.
Virginia Wolfe’s Orlando measures out the epochs
with weather reports, heights wuther on the moors,
and in Dickens it always seems to be dripping.
Tennyson is the apotheosis of rising damp.
It’s as if the creative talent of England is a kind
of natural barometer.