The life of the farm was (as it still is) guided by the seasons. Each month had its duties: Thomas Tusser wrote a series of versified tips to the farmer, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry.

Tusser on March*, April*, May*, and of the different winds in Spring. . .*

In March is good grafting, the skillful do know,
So long as the wind in the east do not blow.

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Sweet April showers,
Do bring May flowers.

Shakespeare was no "nature poet" writing of nature and the seasons for their own sake, but the ancient symbol of the cycle of seasons--spring as birth, summer as the prime, autumn as fruitful age, winter as death, spring (again) as rebirth--informs his plays and his poetry:

O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by and by a cloud takes all away!
(The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1.3.84-87)

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In May get a weed-hook, a crotch [fork], and a glove,
And weed out such weeds as the corn do not love.

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The North is a noyer to grass of all suits,
The East a destroyer to herb and all fruits,
The South, with his showers, refresheth the corn,
The West, to all flowers may not be forborne.

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Ploughing on a Monday?

Go plough in the stubble, take timely this season,
For sowing of vetches, of beans, and of peason.

("Peason" are peas and other legumes; Tusser was always willing to stretch a word for the sake of a rhyme.)

The Monday after Twelfth Night, when farm work was resumed after the Christmas holidays, was known as Plough Monday. On this day, the ploughs were blessed and decorated and dragged around the parish by plough-boys, known as Plough Bullocks or Plough Stots, who demanded food, drink and money. Villagers performed Mummers' plays, which enacted ritual combat and symbolic death and revival. Farm labourers performed sword dances around the plough.

Spring songs

Two songs that celebrate spring by Shakespeare's contemporary, Thomas Morley: "Springtime" is a madrigal, played here by a trio of recorders.

Click here to download the audio file.

and "It Was a Lover and his Lass" is a setting of a lyric from As You Like It, accompanied here by lute:

Click here to download the audio file.

Footnotes

  1. March

    In March is good grafting, the skillful do know,
    So long as the wind in the east do not blow.

  2. April

    Sweet April showers,
    Do bring May flowers.

    A natural poet?

    Shakespeare was no "nature poet" writing of nature and the seasons for their own sake, but the ancient symbol of the cycle of seasons--spring as birth, summer as the prime, autumn as fruitful age, winter as death, spring (again) as rebirth--informs his plays and his poetry:

    O, how this spring of love resembleth
    The uncertain glory of an April day,
    Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
    And by and by a cloud takes all away!
    (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1.3.84-87)

  3. May

    In May get a weed-hook, a crotch [fork], and a glove,
    And weed out such weeds as the corn do not love.

  4. The Properties of the Winds in Spring


    The North is a noyer to grass of all suits,
    The East a destroyer to herb and all fruits,
    The South, with his showers, refresheth the corn,
    The West, to all flowers may not be forborne.