SPRING IN LANGUEDOC
What are the signs of the coming of Spring in the South? In
the grey North it is easy to say; the sun returns, the flowers
reappear, the hedgerows and trees clothe themselves in green,
and the time of the singing of birds is come. But in Languedoc
we have lacked none of these. Cypress and pine and olive
have never shed their leaves, the sun has shone even when the
icy mistral blew from the frozen gorges of the snow-clad
Cevennes, and there has been no day on which we could not
pull a handful of flowers. The yellow ragwort, the pink
geranium, the dull grey green spikes of lavender, the red balls
of the butcher’s broom, the livid clusters of ivy berries, and the
strange, beautiful, golden-green spurges have shone in every
lane. Perhaps the morning on which a sleepy lizard looks out
of a cranny in some wall is really the first of Spring. In a few
days a hundred little bright-eyed heads may be counted in
every wall, and Spring is upon us. Each day the little lane we
know best has a fresh flower to show. The yellow flowers come
first, then the white and blue, the delicate rich purple of the
grape hyacinth, the little blue veronica and milk-wort, violets, and
the star-flowers of the wild strawberry. And in a single night,
as it seems, a miracle is wrought. Every hedgerow breaks out
SPRING IN LANGUEDOC
into blossom, white and pink, and the almond orchards cover
the land with a flush of tender colour.
The narcissus is out at Lattes. How wonderful to find oneself
in the long low meadows among them, the tall, sweetscented
blossoms which are scattered as thickly as daisies
on an English sward! They edge the little watercourses,
nestling round the roots of the stunted willows. The air is
fragrant, the sky is cloudless, and the sunshine and the Spring
day stir the blood like wine. To the South, hardly a league
away, is the deep blue of the Mediterranean, glittering and
gay. And dark on the shore rises the deserted abbey of
Maguelone, grey and timeworn, keeping ward amid the
barren dunes—Maguelone, greatly fallen, its good days done.
No sign of Spring there save for the violet wall-flowers
clinging among the grey stones. Life has ebbed away from
it, and left it lonely with the great dead who sleep in its
forsaken aisles. Thither no more come prince and bishop; no
strangers pass that way save a very few. ‘Sunt lacrymae
rerum.’ Even here among the sunny meadows, steeped
though we be in the sensuous joy of the moment, interpreted
to us by the heavy scent of the narcissus, comes a cry from the
Everlasting Past, a rustle of the Wind of Death.
Nevertheless we shall not die but live. A new spirit is abroad
in the world, and around us the whole land is breaking into
song. Not Mistral only, but a host of lesser men, like a choir
of singing birds, are making music because the world is young.
These are the sons, spiritually begotten, of Troubadour and
Minstrel: these keep alive the memory of the ancient glory of
Languedoc and Provence, and of the days when their sweet
rich speech was the courtliest tongue in Europe. It lives still
on the lips of the folk, of the poet, of the scholar; it is quickening
into a richer and fuller beauty, and a day may yet come
when for our love-songs we turn once more to Provence. It is
a snatch of Mistral that yonder lad is humming,
SPRING IN LANGUEDOC
O Magali, ma tant amado,
Mete la tèsto au fenestroun
Escouto un pau aquesto aubado
De tambourin e de vióuloun.
O Magali, me fas de bèn! . . .
Mai, tre te vèire,
Ve lis estello, O Magali,
Coume au pali!
What a simple, confident, lusty song! There is no hint of
weariness, or disillusion or distrust in this new singing-time.
This land is dear to the sun, and it is good to be alive therein.
It is the land of fig and vine and olive, of love and wine and
song. And so we hear anew the refrain of the oldest love-song
we know, ‘The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the
vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my
love, my fair one, and come away.’ Three thousand
years have neither changed nor chastened
the incorrigible heart of Spring.
Herbertson, Dorothy. “Spring in Languedoc.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 1, Spring 1895, pp. 79-81. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, General Editor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/egv1_herbertson_spring/