Sunday, June 09, 2013

`Those Blue Remembered Days'

In his slender volume Turned Out Nice Again: On Living with the Weather (Profile Books, 2013), the English naturalist Richard Mabey reminds us that halcyon has avian roots: 

“In Mediterranean mythology, the kingfisher (alkuon in Greek) was believed to incubate its eggs on the surface of the sea, during the spell in November when water and weather were always calm, and which was later known as St. Martin’s Little Summer. The phrase `halcyon days’ subsequently began to be used for any period of peace and general happiness – and, because these are so often dependent on the weather, for those blue remembered days in which sunshine and bliss are inseparable.” 

It’s a lovely linkage of fanciful ornithology, lay meteorology and that aching human nostalgia for a Golden Age, when everything was right. For Whitman, “Halcyon Days” signaled the coming of old age, when “all the turbulent passions / calm” – the Golden Years, in icky AARP-speak. For Joan la Pucelle, the spirited French foe of the English in Henry VI, Part 1, the phrase carries a threat:
"Assign'd am I to be the English scourge.
This night the siege assuredly I'll raise:
Expect Saint Martin's summer, halcyon days,
Since I have entered into these wars."
The tree kingfishers make up the family Halcyonidae. I grew up near Halcyon Drive, which pleasingly intersects Notabene Drive. Halcion is a sedative. Halcyon is a coffee shop in Austin, a yarn manufacturer in Maine, a bicycle shop in Nashville. The connotation is wholesome, earthy, serene, though halcyon days, in my experience, are rare if not non-existent. Halcyon moments, yes, usually recalled in dubious tranquility. Perhaps even halcyon hours. Mabey argues that “these associations are so personal you can have a halcyon day in any time of the year, and probably in any weather.” Such things are so idiosyncratic, “personal,” as Mabey says. One longs for lulls, cessation of turbulence, but learns to live on a windswept plain.

No comments: