A Collection: In February

A February morning, windy, cold, with chill-looking clouds hurrying over a pale sky and chill snowdrops for sale in the grey streets. People look small and shrunken as they flit by; they look scared as if they were trying to hide inside their coats from something big and brutal. The shop doors are closed, the awnings are furled, and the policemen at the crossings are lead policemen. Huge empty vans shake past with a hollow sound ; and there is a smell of soot and wet stone staircases, a raw, grimy smell. . .

Flinging her small scarf over her shoulder again, clasping her violin, Miss Bray darts along to orchestra practice. She is conscious of her cold hands, her cold nose and her colder feet. She can’t feel her toes at all. Her feet are just little slabs of cold, all of a piece, like the feet of china dolls. Winter is a terrible time for thin people—terrible! Why should it hound them down, fasten on them, worry them so ? Why not, for a change, take a nip, take a snap at the fat ones who wouldn’t notice ? But no ! It is sleek, warm, cat-like summer that makes the fat one’s life a misery. Winter is all for bones . . .

Threading her way, like a needle, in and out and along, went Miss Bray, and she thought of nothing but the cold. She had just come out of her kitchen, which was pleasantly snug in the morning, with her gas-fire going for her breakfast and the window closed. She had just drunk three large cups of really boiling tea. Surely, they ought to have warmed her. One always read in books of people going on their way warmed and invigorated by even one cup. And she had had three ! How she loved her tea ! She was getting fonder and fonder of it. Stirring the cup, Miss Bray looked down. A little fond smile parted her lips, and she breathed tenderly, ” I love my tea.”

But all the same, in spite of the books, it didn’t keep her warm. Cold! Cold! And now as she turned the corner she took such a gulp of damp, cold air that her eyes filled. Ti-yi-yi, a little dog yelped; he looked as though he’d been hurt. She hadn’t time to look round, but that high, sharp yelping soothed her, was a comfort even. She could have made just that sound herself.

From ‘Second Violin’ by Katherine Mansfield

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The Month of February by Abel Grimmer

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As the stores close, a winter light
opens air to iris blue,
glint of frost through the smoke
grains of mica, salt of the sidewalk.
As the buildings close, released autonomous
feet pattern the streets
in hurry and stroll; balloon heads
drift and dive above them; the bodies
aren’t really there.
As the lights brighten, as the sky darkens,
a woman with crooked heels says to another woman
while they step along at a fair pace,
‘You know, I’m telling you, what I love best
is life. I love life! Even if I ever get
to be old and wheezy—or limp! You know?
Limping along?—I’d still … ‘ Out of hearing.
To the multiple disordered tones
of gears changing, a dance
to the compass points, out, four-way river.
Prospect of sky
wedged into avenues, left at the ends of streets,
west sky, east sky: more life tonight! A range
of open time at winter’s outskirts.

‘February Evening in New York’ by Denise Levertov

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From ‘Arcadian Calendar for 1910’: illustrated by Vernon Hill

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11th February 1910

An icy rush of air, a freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin. She is, with no warning, outside the inside and the familiar wet, tropical world has suddenly evaporated. Exposed to the elements. A prawn peeled, a nut shelled.

No breath. All the world came down to this. One breath.

Little lungs, like dragonfly wings failing to inflate in the foreign atmosphere. No wind in the strangled pipe. The buzzing of a thousand bees in the tiny curled pearl of an ear.

Panic. The drowning girl, the falling bird.

The first beginning of ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson

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(c) Bradford Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

‘February’ by Maud Raphael Jones

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“Well, did you find Diana a kindred spirit?” asked Marilla as they went up through the garden of Green Gables.

“Oh yes,” sighed Anne, blissfully unconscious of any sarcasm on Marilla’s part. “Oh Marilla, I’m the happiest girl on Prince Edward Island this very moment. I assure you I’ll say my prayers with a right good-will tonight. Diana and I are going to build a playhouse in Mr. William Bell’s birch grove tomorrow. Can I have those broken pieces of china that are out in the woodshed? Diana’s birthday is in February and mine is in March. Don’t you think that is a very strange coincidence? Diana is going to lend me a book to read. She says it’s perfectly splendid and tremendously exciting. She’s going to show me a place back in the woods where rice lilies grow. Don’t you think Diana has got very soulful eyes? I wish I had soulful eyes. Diana is going to teach me to sing a song called `Nelly in the Hazel Dell.’ She’s going to give me a picture to put up in my room; it’s a perfectly beautiful picture, she says–a lovely lady in a pale blue silk dress. A sewing-machine agent gave it to her. I wish I had something to give Diana. I’m an inch taller than Diana, but she is ever so much fatter; she says she’d like to be thin because it’s so much more graceful, but I’m afraid she only said it to soothe my feelings. We’re going to the shore some day to gather shells. We have agreed to call the spring down by the log bridge the Dryad’s Bubble. Isn’t that a perfectly elegant name? I read a story once about a spring called that. A dryad is sort of a grown-up fairy, I think.”

From ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L M Montgomery

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Flower Chart for February (from Robert Furber, “Twelve Months of Flowers”…London, 1730)

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February 12th

Insufferable behaviour of Lady B. Find large party, all of whom are directed at front door to go to the Hard Courts, where, under inadequate shelter, in Arctic temperature, all are compelled to watch young men in white flannels keeping themselves warm by banging a little ball against a wall. Lady B. wears an emerald-green leather coat with fur collar and cuffs. I, having walked down, have on ordinary coat and skirt, and freeze rapidly. Find myself next unknown lady who talks wistfully about the tropics. Can well understand this. On other side elderly gentleman, who says conversationally that this Naval Disarmament is All his Eye. This contribution made to contemporary thought, he says no more. Past five o’clock before we are allowed to go in to tea, by which time am only too well aware that my face is blue and my hands purple. Lady B. asks me at tea how the children are, and adds, to the table at large, that I am “A Perfect Mother”. Am naturally avoided, conversationally, after this, by everybody at the tea-table. Later on, Lady B. tells us about South of France. She quotes repartees made by herself in French, and then translates them.

Unavoidable Query presents itself here: Would a verdict of Justifiable Homicide delivered against their mother affect future careers of children unfavourably?

Discuss foreign travel with unknown, but charming, lady in black. We are delighted with one another—or so I confidently imagine—arid she begs me to go and see her if I am ever in her neighbourhood. I say that I will—but am well aware that courage will fail me when it comes to the point. Pleasant sense of mutual sympathy suddenly and painfully shattered by my admitting—in reply to direct enquiry—that I am not a gardener—which the lady in black is, to an extent that apparently amounts to monomania. She remains charming, but quite ceases to be delighted with me, and I feel discouraged.

Must try to remember that Social Success is seldom the portion of those who habitually live in the provinces. No doubt they serve some other purpose in the vast field of Creation—but have not yet discovered what.

Lady B. asks if I have seen the new play at the Royalty. I say No. She says Have I been to the Italian Art Exhibition? I have not. She enquires what I think of Her Privates We—which I haven’t yet read—and I at once give her a long and spirited account of my reactions to it. Feel after this that I had better go, before I am driven to further excesses.

Shall she, says Lady B., ring for my car? Refrain from replying that no amount of ringing will bring my car to the door all by itself, and say instead that I walked. Lady B. exclaims that this is Impossible, and that I am Too Marvellous, Altogether. Take my leave before she can add that I am such a Perfect Countrywoman, which I feel is coming next.

Get home—still chilled to the bone owing to enforced detention at Hard Court—and tell Robert what I think of Lady B. He makes no answer, but I feel he agrees.

Mademoiselle says: “Tiens! Madame a mauvaise mine. On dirait un cadavre…”

Feel that this is kindly meant, but do not care about the picture that it conjures up.

Say good-night to Vicky, looking angelic in bed, and ask what she is thinking about, lying there. She disconcertingly replies with briskness: “Oh, Kangaroos and things.”

The workings of the infant mind very, very difficult to follow, sometimes. Mothers by no means infallible.

From ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ by E M Delafield

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‘February in the Isle of Wight’ by John Brett

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A chimney, breathing a little smoke.
The sun, I can’t see
making a bit of pink
I can’t quite see in the blue.
The pink of five tulips
at five p.m. on the day before March first.
The green of the tulip stems and leaves
like something I can’t remember,
finding a jack-in-the-pulpit
a long time ago and far away.
Why it was December then
and the sun was on the sea
by the temples we’d gone to see.
One green wave moved in the violet sea
like the UN Building on big evenings,
green and wet
while the sky turns violet.
A few almond trees
had a few flowers, like a few snowflakes
out of the blue looking pink in the light.
A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They’re just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can’t get over
how it all works in together
like a woman who just came to her window
and stands there filling it
jogging her baby in her arms.
She’s so far off. Is it the light
that makes the baby pink?
I can see the little fists
and the rocking-horse motion of her breasts.
It’s getting grayer and gold and chilly.
Two dog-size lions face each other
at the corners of a roof.
It’s the yellow dust inside the tulips.
It’s the shape of a tulip.
It’s the water in the drinking glass the tulips are in.
It’s a day like any other.
‘February’ by James Schuyler

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‘Early Spring’ by Anna Berezovskaya

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I think  – I hope – that spring is coming ….

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15 thoughts on “A Collection: In February

  1. Lovely collection Jane! February has been fairly rotten and cold and wet – can’t wait for spring…


  2. Enjoyed this so much! Thank you for taking the time to put it together. Had a laugh at the ‘Unavoidable Query presents itself here:’ of Delafield, then came to the John Brett painting and my skipped a little beat. Just lovely.


  3. Thank you so very much Jane. These portmanteau posts of yours really feel like a carefully chosen collection of gifts for us, and I thoroughly enjoy and savour opening each one. Beautiful artworks, magical words


  4. Wonderful collection. Oh I adore that extract from The Provincial Lady and that piece from Katherine Mansfield convinces me I must soon get round to more of her stories.


  5. I really enjoy your monthly collections Jane. They always introduce me to poems, books and pictures I was previously unaware of. Thanks!


  6. Wonderful selection as ever, especially the passage from Katherine Mansfield’s Second Violin. I have a collection of her stories on my kindle, good for dipping into every now and again.


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