Next came fresh April, full of lustyhed,
And wanton as a kid whose horne new buds;
Upon a bull he rode, the same which led
Europa floating through th’ Argolick fluds:
His horns were gilden all with golden studs,
And garnished with garlands goodly dight,
Of all the fairest flowers and freshest buds,
Which th’ earth brings forth; and wet he seemed in sight
With waves through which he waded for his love’s delight.
APRIL presents no prettier picture than that of green fields, with rustic stiles between the openings of the hedges, where old footpaths go in and out, winding along, until lost in the distance; with children scattered here and there, singly or in groups, just as the daisies are, all playing or gathering flowers. With what glee they rush about! chasing one another in zigzag lines like butterflies, tumbling here, and running there; one lying on its back, laughing and shouting in the sunshine; another, prone on the grass, is pretending to cry, in order to be picked up. A third, a quiet little thing, with her silky hair hanging all about her sweet face, sits patiently sticking daisy-buds on the thorns of a leafless branch, that she may carry home a tree of flowers. Some fill their pinafores, others sit decorating their caps and bonnets, while one, whose fair brow has been garlanded, dances as she holds up the skirt of her little frock daintily with her fingers. Their graceful attitudes can only be seen for a few moments; for if they catch a strange eye directed towards them, they at once cease their play, and start off like alarmed birds. We have often wished for a photograph of such a scene as we have hear described and witnessed while sheltered behind some hedge or tree.
Dear to us all are those old footpaths that, time out of mind, have gone winding through the pleasant fields, beside hedges and along watercourses, leading to peaceful villages and far-away farms, which the hum and jar of noisy cities never reach; where we seem at every stride to be drawing nearer the Creator, as we turn our backs upon the perishable labours of man.
Only watch some old man, bent with the weight of years, walking out into the fields when April greens the ground –
‘Making it all one emerald.”
With what entire enjoyment he moves along, pausing every here and there to look at the opening flowers! Yes, they are the very same he gazed upon in boyhood, springing from the same roots, and growing in the very spots where he gathered them fifty long years ago. What a many changes he has seen since those days, while they appear unaltered! He thinks how happy life then passed away, with no more care than that felt by the flowers that wave in the breeze and sunshine, which shake the rain from their heads, as he did when a boy, darting in and out bareheaded, when he ran to play amid the April showers. Tears were then dried and forgotten almost as soon as shed. He recalls the companions of his early manhood, who stood full-leaved beside him, in the pride of their summer strength and beauty, shewing no sign of decay, but exulting as if their whole life would be one unchanged summerhood. Where are they now? Some fell with all their leafy honours thick upon them. A few reached the season of the ‘sere and yellow leaf’ before they fell, and were drifted far away from the spot where they flourished, and which now ‘knoweth them no more for ever.’ A few stood up amid the silence of the winter of their age, though they saw but little of one another in those days of darkness. And now he recalls the withered and ghastly faces, which were long since laid beneath the snow. He alone is spared to look through the green gates of April down those old familiar footpaths, which they many a time traversed together. ‘Cuckoo! cuckoo!’ Ah, well he knows that note! It brings again the backward years – the sound he tried to imitate when a boy – home, with its little garden – the very face of the old clock, whose ticking told him it was near schooltime. And he looks for the messenger of spring now as he did then, as it flies from tree to tree; but all he can discover is the green foliage, for his eyes are dim and dazed, and he cannot see it now. He hears the song of some bird, which was once as familiar to him as his mother’s voice, and tries to remember its name, but cannot; and as he tries, he thinks of those who were with him when he heard it; and so he goes on unconsciously unwinding link by link the golden chain which reaches from the grave to heaven. And when he returns home, he carries with him a quiet heart, for his thoughts scarcely seem allied to earth, and lie ‘too deep for tears.’ He seems to have looked behind that gray misty summit, where the forgotten years have rolled down, and lie buried, and to have seen that dim mustering-ground beyond the grave, where those who have gone before are waiting to receive him.
Many of the Trees now begin to make ‘some little show of green.’ Among these is the elm, which has a beautiful look with the blue April sky seen through its half-developed foliage. The ash also begins to shew its young leaves, though the last year’s ‘keys,’ with the blackened seed, still hang among the branches, and rattle again in every wind that blows. The oak puts out its red buds and bright metallic-looking leaves slowly, as if to shew that its hardy limbs require as little clothing as the ancient Britons did, when hoary oaks covered long leagues of our forest-studded island. The chestnut begins to shoot forth its long, finger-shaped foliage, which breaks through the rounded and gummy buds that have so firmly enclosed it. On the limes we see a tender delicate green, which the sun shines through as if they were formed of the clearest glass. The beech throws from its graceful sprays leaves which glitter like emeralds when they are steeped in sunshine; and no other tree has such a smooth and beautiful bark, as rustic lovers well know when they carve the names of their beloved ones on it. The silver birch throws down its flowers in waves of gold, while the leaves drop over them in the most graceful forms, and the stem is dashed with a variety of colours like a bird. The laburnums stand up like ancient foresters, clothed in green and gold. But, beautiful above all, are the fruit-trees, now in blossom. The peaches seem to make the very walls to which they are trailed burn again with their bloom, while the cherry-tree looks as if a shower of daisies had rained on it, and adhered to the branches. The plum is one mass of unbroken blossom, without shewing a single green leaf, while, in the distance, the almond-tree looks like some gigantic flower, whose head is one tuft of bloom, so thickly are the branches embowered with buds. Then come the apple-blossoms, the loveliest of all, looking like a bevy of virgins peeping out of their white drapery, covered with blushes; while all the air around is perfumed with the fragrance of the bloom, as if the winds had been out gathering flowers, and scattered the perfume everywhere as they passed. All day long the bees are busy among the bloom, making an unceasing murmur, for April is beautiful to look upon; and if she hides her sweet face for a few hours behind the rain-clouds, it is only that she may appear again peeping out through the next burst of sunshine in a veil of fresher green, through which we see the red and white of her bloom.
The sand-martin – one of the earliest swallows that arrives – sets to work like a miner, making a pick-axe of his beak, and hewing his way into the sandbank, until he hollows out for himself a comfortable house to dwell in, with a long passage to it, that goes sloping upward to keep out the wet, and in which he is caverned as dry and snug as ever were our painted forefathers. The window-swallow is busy building in the early morning, – we see his shadow darting across the sunny window-blind while we are in bed; and if we arise, and look cautiously through one corner of the blind, we see it at work, close to us, smoothing the clay with its throat and the under part of the neck, while it moves its little head to and fro, holding onto the wall or window-frame all the time by its claws, and the flattening pressure of the tail. It will soon get accustomed to our face, and go on with its work, as if totally unconscious of our presence, if we never wilfully frighten it. Other birds, like hatters, felt their nests so closely and solidly together, that they are as hard to cut through as a well-made millboard. Some fit the materials carefully together, bending one piece and breaking another, and making them fit in everywhere like joiners and carpenters, though they have neither square, nor rule, nor tool, only their tiny beaks, with which they do all. Some weave the materials in and out, like basket-makers; and by some unknown process – defying all human ingenuity – they will work in, and bend to suit their purpose, sticks and other things so brittle and rotten that were we only to touch them ever so gently, they would drop to pieces. Nothing seems to come amiss to them in the shape of building materials, for we find their nests formed of what might have been relics of mouldering scarecrows, bits of old hats, carpets, wool-stockings, cloth, hair, moss, cotton in rags and hanks, dried grass, withered leaves, feathers, lichen, decayed wood, bark, and we know not what beside; all put neatly together by these skilful and cunning workmen. They are the oldest miners and masons, carpenters and builders, felters, weavers, and basket-makers; and the pyramids are but as the erections of yesterday compared with the time when these ancient architects first began to build.
Now the angler hunts up his fishing-tackle, for the breath of April is warm and gentle; a golden light plays upon the streams and rivers, and when the rain comes down, it seems to tread with muffled feet on the young leaves, and hardly to press down the flowers. But to hear the sweet birds sing, to feel the refreshing air blowing gently on all around, and see Nature arraying herself in all her spring beauty, has ever seemed to us a much greater pleasure than that of fishing. Angling is of itself a pleasant out-of-door sport; for, if tired, there is the bank ready to sit down upon; the clear river to gaze over; the willows to watch as they ever wave wildly to and fro; or the circle in the water – made by some fish as it rises at a fly – to trace, as it rounds and widens, and breaks among the pebbles on the shore, or is lost amid the tangles of the overhanging and ever-moving sedge. Saving the lapping of the water, all is silent. There a contemplative man may sit and hold communion with Nature, seeing something new every time he shifts his glance, for many a flower has now made its appearance which remained hidden while March blew his windy trumpet, and in these green moist shady places the blue bell of spring may now be found. It is amongst the earliest flowers – such as the cowslips and daisies – that country children love to place the bluebell, to ornament many an open cottage-window in April; it bears no resemblance to the blue harebell of summer, as the latter flowers grow singly, while those of the wild hyacinth nearly cover the stem with their closely-packed bells, sometimes to a foot in height. The bells which are folded are of a deeper blue than those that have opened; and very gracefully do those hang down that are in full bloom, shewing the tops of their fairy cups turning backward. The dark upright leaves are of a beautiful green, and attract the eye pleasantly long before the flowers appear. Beside them, the delicate lily-of-the-valley may also now be found, one of the most graceful of all our wildflowers. How elegantly its white ivory-looking bells rise, tier above tier, to the very summit of the flower-stalk, while the two broad leaves which protect it seem placed her for its support, as if a thing of such frail beauty required something to lean upon! The gaudy dandelion and great marsh-marigold are now in flower, one lighting up our wayside wastes almost everywhere, and the other looking like a burning lamp as its reflection seems blazing in the water. It is pleasant to see a great bed of tall dandelions on a windy April day shaking all their golden heads together; and common as it may appear, it is a beautiful compound flower. And who has not, in the days of childhood, blown off the downy seed, to tell the hours of the day by the number of puffs it took to disperse the feathered messengers?
In the ancient Alban calendar, in which the year was represented as consisting of ten months of irregular length, April stood first, with thirty-six days to its credit. In the calendar of Romulus, it had the second place, and was composed of thirty days. Numa’s twelve-month calendar assigned it the fourth place, with twenty-nine days; and so it remained till the reformation of the year by Julius Cæsar, when it recovered its former thirty days, which it has since retained.
It is commonly supposed that the name was derived from the Latin aperio, I open, as marking the time when the buds of the trees and flowers open. If this were the case, it would make April singular amongst the months, for the names of none of the rest, as designated in Latin, have any reference to natural conditions or circumstances. There is not the least probability in the idea. April was considered amongst the Romans as Venus’s month, obviously because of the reproductive powers of nature now set agoing in several of her departments. The first day was specially set aside as Festum Veneris et Fortunæ Virilis. The probability, therefore, is, that Aprilis was Aphrilis, founded on the Greek name of Venus (Aphrodite).
The Anglo-Saxons called the month Oster-monath; and for this appellation the most plausible origin assigned is – that it was the month during which east winds prevailed. The term Easter may have come from the same origin.
CHARACTERISTICS OF APRIL.
It is eminently a spring month, and in Britain some of the finest weather of the year occasionally takes place in April. Generally, however, it is a month composed of shower and sunshine rapidly chasing each other; and often a chill is communicated by the east winds. The sun enters Taurus on the 20th of the month, and thus commences the second month past the equinox.
Proverbial wisdom takes, on the whole, a kindly view of this flower-producing month. It even asserts that –
A cold April
The barn will fill.
The rain is welcomed:
An April flood
Carries away the frog and his brood.
Make May flowers.
Nor is there any harm in wind:
When April blows his horn,
It’s good for both hay and corn.