Yesterday was Midsummer, the longest day of the year; over sixteen hours of light mostly masked by the rain. In coming to England I imagined that the day before, Midsummer Eve, would be my high festival. We’d go into the woods to do the rites with twigs and herbs and light a fire and dance around it wildly and yell full-throated, and drink nettle-tea, or sweet wine, and watch the smoke rise. Out on the meadow, or in a copse. Instead I was preparing for Mods. Yesterday, Midsummer’s Day, was spent writing theory in a post-apocalyptic hellhole in Summertown.
I’m going to pretend today is Midsummer’s Eve. There’s a garden party in the quad, and the wind turns a fierce corner. The sky is alternately sullen and gleeful. We might be rained out, or hear the night birds.
I will midsummer-ly console myself with my favourite part of my favourite book: Midsummer’s Eve in I Capture the Castle, which is pure indulgence to include here (but which I will do anyhow):
There wasn’t a breath of wind as I climbed the mound. The sun was down – usually I begin the rites by watching it sink, but trying the scent had taken longer than I realized. The sky beyond Belmotte Tower was a watery yellow with one streak of green across it – vivid green, most magically beautiful. But it faded quickly…
When the fire was blazing high again I felt we had better get the rites over. My self-consciousness about them had come back a little so I was as matter-of-fact as possible; I must say leaving out the verses made things rather dull. We burnt the salt and the herbs…and shared the cake with Heloise; Simon only had a very small piece because he was full of dinner. Then we drank the Vicar’s port…I hoped we could leave things at that, but Simon firmly reminded me about dancing round the fire. In the end, we just ran round seven times, with Heloise after us, barking madly. It was the smallest bit as if Simon were playing with the children, but I know he didn’t mean it, and he was so very kind that I felt I had to pretend I was enjoying it myself – I even managed a few wild leaps. Topaz is the girl for leaping; last year she nearly shook the mound.
And suddenly knew that I had been right in fearing this might be my last year for the rites – that if I ever held them again I should be ‘playing with the children.’ I only felt the smallest pang of sadness, because the glory of supper at Scoatney was stretching ahead of me; but I said to myself that, Simon or no Simon, I was going to give the farewell call – a farewell for ever this time, not just for a year….I called – and it echoed back from the castle walls as I knew it would. Then Heloise raised her head and howled – and that echoed, too. Simon was fascinated; he said it was the best moment of the rites.