The Big Question: the poet and short-story writer James Lasdun chooses a month that neither drags nor rushes...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2013

There’s a famous joke postcard of New York, showing a Manhattan street view in each of the four seasons; the joke being that each image is identical. It isn’t quite fair to the city, but it does make me appreciate the sharp differentiation of the seasons where I live, upstate in the Catskill Mountains. Each has its charms, and I’d find it hard to choose between them on aesthetic grounds, though our autumn foliage still floors me every year with its hallucinatory pinks and oranges.

But since turning 50 I’ve noticed two new things about myself. One is that I’m reacting more primitively to heat and cold than I used to. The winters here are long and hard. For a good five months there’s the daily possibility of snow, sleet, ice, freezing rain. It’s all fantastically bracing and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but the constant battle with the elements takes its toll, and after a while the body—or my body—succumbs to an increasingly desperate craving for sun-warmed air.

Logically, then, I should choose a summer month. But there’s the second mid-life change to consider, namely the speeding-up of time, specifically pleasurable time. Almost as soon as the warm weather arrives and we start living al fresco, under the stars every evening with drinks and friends and candles, I grow morbidly aware of how quickly the days are passing; how soon this interlude of ease will be over again. It seriously impairs my enjoyment.

April then: the one month that neither drags nor rushes. The weather’s still raw, but the haze of buds on the mountainside tells you winter’s losing its grip, while the occasional balmy day gives you a miraculous taste of things to come. Miraculous because nothing is diminished: the store of real heat still awaits you, far off and fully intact. Robert Frost captures this volatile poise perfectly in “Two Tramps in Mud Time” :

You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March...


For a few weeks in this precarious, partly imaginary warmth, the gods permit you to have your cake and eat it.

Read Charles Nevin on December, A.D. Miller on May, John Burnside on July, Kathleen Jamie on October and Ann Wroe on Brumaire.

James Lasdun is a poet, screenwriter and the author of "It's Beginning to Hurt"

Picture Getty