Western WindBy Simeon Dumdum Jr.
I associate “Western Wind” with Advent, the season that sets Christmastime and the new liturgical year in motion. This four-line poem by an unknown author comes down to us from the Middle Ages:
Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow,
The small raine down can raine.
Cryst, if my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde again.
The one speaking longs for the loved one’s return, timed with Spring, ushered in by rains borne by the westerly wind. Simple on the surface, the poem has complexity, and there lies its richness. The expression of the man’s desire takes a roundabout way, the poetic way.
Our man yearns for the breath of the wind—in fact, he pines for the appearance of the one he loves, and so fervently does he anticipate this he speaks of her already in his arms.
Though short, the poem brims over with unsaid things. About the lovers being kept apart by circumstances—work, family, commitments—and about the promises that fuel the fires of waiting. And also, despite the certainty of the visit of the Western Wind and the rain, there still lurks the probability of the loved one’s non-arrival.
No doubt the image of the beloved is ever on the man’s mind, receding into the background only in sleep, and even there recurring in dreams. Daily he tears off a page from the calendar and towards the end of Winter gazes at the sky, westwards, at the cloud formations, for signs of the desired change in weather.
There are those who speculate that the speaker in the poem is a monk, in the belief perhaps that the educated folk in the Middle Ages, those likely to write poems, lived in monasteries. But troubadours lived in those times too, and our man’s being a cenobite does not square with the poem’s non-celibate sentiments, and the mention of Christ is but an irreverent interjection. Still, he will probably smile at the resonance he finds when he reads Jesus’ admonition in the Gospel of Mark: “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!”
It is the same amount of alertness and vigilance that awaiting the beloved requires as the Lord. But if out of fear the expectation of God’s coming entails an intense watchfulness, it is the watchfulness of an eye kept on the possibility of escape, not the sureness of embrace. Since our man knows the time when the cherished one will come, he sees his waiting as a mere matter of counting days, of exing the calendar, as well as, meteorology being an inexact science, sensing which way the wind is blowing.
The poem was discovered already with music in the 16th century. This, at least for me, opens the matter to fanciful conjecture, that perhaps the words were written by a monk after all, and that in the course of the centuries they suffered a sea change. A troubadour might have come across the little poem and to enrich his court duties given it a romantic twist, and then wove music into the lay.
Whatever might have happened, if it happened at all, the waiting and vigilance and alertness for the Lord’s coming has meaning only if it arises from a longing, the yearning for a Beloved, which, because the Beloved is God and Love himself, is the mother of all desires. Like the arrival of the Western Wind, the advent of the Lord at the end of days is certain, and still, because God entered our history and was born as a man, already the Baby is in our arms.
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