Saturday, January 20, 2007

St. Agnes' Eve

By the way, tonight, January 20, is the eve of St. Agnes, traditionally the coldest night of the year being a month from the winter solstice. Here in Lebanon (OR), I think (I hope) that our coldest night was earlier in the week when we had snow and ice, causing OSU to be closed part of the day. Today, we had 50 degrees and sunshine.

This evening, the night before St. Agnes was martyred in Rome in 304 AD/CE, inspired both the famous poem by John Keats and another that I only just discovered (which I think not as good) by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Both draw on the legends that unmarried girls could have a dream of their future husband on this night if certain rituals were performed. I learned of Keats' poem years ago from my first husband, whose birthday is also today (along with several other people I know) and who was a great fan of Keats' poetry. This article from the Victorian Web points out the Ekphrastic qualities of Keats' writing and makes connections with the Pre-Raphaelite artists and writers. One of these, John Everett Millais, who painted the picture above, is an ancestor of my friend's grandmother, Mrs. Henry Hereford of Newton Ferrers England, whose birthday is (was) also today.

I've always liked the opening lines:

St. Agnes' Eve--Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:


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