Saturday, February 2, 2008

Rerun: Candlemas (February 2)

The snowdrop, in purest white arraie,
First rears her hedde on Candlemas daie.

(ca. 1500)

In the Christian calendar, Candlemas is the festival of the Purification of Mary and commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It was also traditionally the day on which the church candles for the year were blessed. The day also coincides with the beginning of the lambing season, marked by a pagan festival known as Imbolc, and Groundhog's Day. The original European superstition was that fair weather on Candlemas meant another forty days of winter.

In England, Candlemas is also the season of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), which are sometimes known as Candlemas bells. The snowdrops pictured here were blooming near the Inchford Brook ford, southwest of Kenilworth, at the end of last January. Snowdrops appear to be garden escapees in England; they were often planted in monastery gardens, and evidently are still found on the sites of ruined monasteries. Snowdrops, incidentally, are believed by some medical historians to be the herb moly mentioned in Homer's Odyssey as the antidote to Circe's magic. The bulb of the snowdrop contains a compound known as galanthamine, which is now marketed as a drug to treat Alzheimer's disease.

Public Poetry at the Northfield Public Library

In early August, the director of the Northfield Public Library, Teresa Jensen, asked me to write a poem to be displayed prominently in the...