A Climatic Moment

A Climatic Moment

This week’s poems are all weather-related.

We get a light shower from Thomas Hardy’s “Weathers”, then the small rain of the anonymous “Western Wind” and we finish with the storm warning of Rudyard Kipling’s “Storm Cone”.

Poem 70. Weathers

This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
And so do I;

Thomas Hardy (1840—1928)
This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
And so do I;
When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,
And nestlings fly:
And the little brown nightingale bills his best,
And they sit outside at "The Travellers' Rest,"
And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest,
And citizens dream of the south and west,
And so do I.
This is the weather the shepherd shuns,
And so do I;
When beeches drip in browns and duns,
And thresh, and ply;
And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,
And meadow rivulets overflow,
And drops on gate-bars hang in a row,
And rooks in families homeward go,
And so do I.

I like this poem because it contrasts spring with autumn, and because of the way Thomas Hardy arranges the rhymes.

The first stanza describes spring, “the weather the cuckoo likes,” when young birds fledge, customers at the pub sit outside with their drinks while the nightingales sing, and people dream of Devon and Cornwall—Hardy was a Dorset man who set many of his novels in the region of Wessex, so his predilection for the south and west is understandable.

The second stanza describes the wind and rain and the brown leaves one associates with autumn. I like, “When beeches drip in browns and duns, and thresh, and ply” and “drops on gate-bars hang in a row”. I think that the wet weather is very cleverly described—you can visualise the scene Hardy paints quite easily.

Poem 71. Western Wind

Christ if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.


Western wind, when will thou blow
The small rain down can rain?
Christ if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.

Very simple, but tremendously expressive, this poem makes me think of those wet nights when the only comfort is to lie in a warm bed with your beloved in your arms listening to the weather outside with profound gladness.

Poem 72. The Storm Cone

Stand by! The lull ‘twixt blast and blast
Signals the storm is near, not past;

Rudyard Kipling (1865—1936)
This is the midnight—let no star
Delude us—dawn is very far.
This is the tempest long foretold—
Slow to make head but sure to hold
Stand by! The lull 'twixt blast and blast
Signals the storm is near, not past;
And worse than present jeopardy
May our forlorn to-morrow be.
If we have cleared the expectant reef,
Let no man look for his relief.
Only the darkness hides the shape
Of further peril to escape.
It is decreed that we abide
The weight of gale against the tide
And those huge waves the outer main
Sends in to set us back again.
They fall and whelm. We strain to hear
The pulses of her labouring gear,
Till the deep throb beneath us proves,
After each shudder and check, she moves!
She moves, with all save purpose lost,
To make her offing from the coast;
But, till she fetches open sea,
Let no man deem that he is free!

This poem seems to describe a ship endangered by an oncoming storm, in peril until it is safely out on the open sea. Kipling describes vividly the reefs, the seething waters and the stresses working on the vessel and the scale of the effort needed to escape disaster.

Kipling, however, was a master at writing poems that work on several levels, and it is also a metaphor for Britain’s peril in the early 1930s, its military strength waning as it followed the doctrine of general disarmament adopted after the Treaty of Versailles. Kipling was troubled by the growing strength of Stalin’s newly industrialised and rearmed Russia and the warning signs coming from Germany with the growth in power of the Nazis.

Kipling, like many of his generation, had been horrified by the losses of the First World War and had lost his only son during the conflict. This can only have been intensified by the knowledge that he had foreseen and warned of the 1914-1918 war to no avail.  The implicit warning of this poem also went unheeded, being described as ‘exaggerated and gloomy’ but Kipling did not live to experience the horrors of the Blitz and the dreadful revelations of the death camps.

Storm cones are now archaic in the world of radio signals and international data traffic, but they were a visual warning signal that a gale was expected—they were flown point uppermost if an oncoming gale was from the north or point down if from the south. They were devised by Rear Admiral Fitzroy, the former commander of HMS Beagle (Darwin’s ship) who was head of the part of the Board of Trade now known as the Met Office, and the inventor of weather forecasts. Offing is the safe distance from land for a ship to avoid navigational dangers.