So sings George Harrison. And so he sings again: Sun sun sun, doo doo doo, darling darling darling – and creates one of the simplest songs in The Beatles’ long catalogue of pretty simple songs. As he sings this morning in my headphones (wink wink nudge nudge Niko,) while the sun finally emerges from its long cloud-cosseted hiatus of winter, I can’t help thinking that this little ditty might be a work of absolute genius. (In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m overflowing with love for everything and—of which more later…)
Carl Sagan may have been in a similar mood on a fateful day in 1977, when he clearly agreed with me. Given the task of constructing the Voyager Golden Record – a record attached to the Voyager spacecraft, holding information which would give a representative sample of human civilization – the astronomer, author and academic chose to include ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ EMI refused to release the rights, and so E.T. and all his little alien friends were left deplorably lacking in Beatle-mania.
Why would this song ever be deemed worthy of such an honour? Is this almost childish tune really the only piece of British music after the reign of Elizabeth I meriting literally universal fame? The alternatives are too many to list. Does it communicate a particularly important facet of human experience particularly well?
Here is recognition of the fact that is, today, gloriously thrust in our sun-kissed faces—that spring’s coming is one of our world’s great pleasures. The Golden Record’s contents – even after EMI’s stubbornness – still reflect this. Alongside diagrams of the human anatomy, explanations of conception, and touching images of rush hour traffic (is this really what we want to memorialise??) we find a tree surrounded by a host of golden daffodils. And after a Pygmy girls’ initiation song, and before a Peruvian wedding song, the extra terrestrial’s ears – should they have them – will be treated to Ivor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which dramatized ritual celebration of spring.
The Golden Record’s aim applies to artistic production more generally – to communicate successfully and beautifully a representative sample of human experience. That the experience of spring is something deemed worth celebrating, too, is indicative of a much larger trend. Reams of poetry, Tate galleries full of paintings (Jonathan Jones here offers up some gems) and record after record of music has been devoted to the subject.
Spring then prompts artistic unity – poems, paintings and songs that adopt the same subject matter. This can lead to problems. Does the value of art depend partly on individuality? Does a poem about tweeting birds and cheerful blooms teeter too close to dangerous cliché?These questions come up in writing about medieval lyric poetry. Lyric poetry is characterized by an interest in the interior life, thoughts and feelings of one particular poetic “I.” Surely we can then expect some originality. Manuscripts however home a near-sickening number of spring-songs. In the British Library’s Harley 2253 manuscript, we find two poems: ‘Lenten is come with love to toune’, and ‘When the nightegale singes’. Both talk about spring – so adopting the reverdie form. Writing about spring has, even in the medieval times, already become so common that it merits a specific genre. Both tick necessary boxes. Springtime is evoked ‘with blosmen’ in one and ‘blosme springes’ in the next, the ‘notes swete of nighthegales’ matched by ‘when the nightegale singes.’ And both attempt ironically to show their nonconformity – but in conforming ways. Spring’s lustful growth, in both, emphasizes by contrast the lack of vitality in the lovers’ relationship.
W.T.H. Jackson has scornfully stated that the medieval lyric ‘has a pleasing naivete and simple charm, but also a monotony of theme and lack of technical skill.’ This bitchy burn of a comment leaves not only medieval lyrics but a lot of artworks succeeding them open to criticism. Within this criticism however – I think – lies the joy and the genius of the best artistic reveries.
Let’s return now to alien-worthy ‘Here Comes the Sun’: naïve, charming, and with exactly the same theme as so many other works. It varies from our medieval lyrics in that, crucially, ‘little darling’ seems to be on board with any doo doo doo –ing Harrison suggests. She will woweth like the best of the worms. And so will we. The power of a pop song is that of remaining in memory. The tune when caught imbues those that hum it with some poetic agency. Singing Harrison’s words on a fine morning years after they were written we become the speaker, while simultaneously – in listening to it, and loving it – willingly becoming his ‘little darling.’
Reverdies celebrate spring’s universality, that today we are united in the simple joy that is the run-of-the-mill appreciation of weather. Similarly, weather, when allowed to peep through windows or stream from the sky in artworks, gives the reader/ listener / viewer a way in. We cannot imagine the medieval world, nor George Harrison’s undescribed lover; we do however know exactly what it feels like to wake up and find spring suddenly sprung. We can thus partially slot ourselves into the scene. Descriptions of weather are unoriginal because the weather itself is unoriginal. A cliché is a phrase that has been used over and over again. Spring is a season that has arrived and been welcomed by innumerable people innumerable times.
The naivety of some weather descriptions is then not only understandable but deeply appropriate. Richard Mabey finds the British obsession with weather ‘heartening,’ seeing the ‘blindingly obvious remark’ like “Turned out nice again” as ‘a kind of common language.’ This common language requires words that are naïve, almost as lacking in specificity as ‘doo doo doo doo.’
Weather, we have seen, can become a sort of allegory for the artistic process—the rain facilitating romance like a hardened match-maker or chick-lit author. It is not surprising that T.S. Eliot thought April was the cruelest month; its joys are out of sync with the exclusive complexity of high modernism, and far more in keeping with The Beatles favoured medium: the pop song. Spring acts within pop songs as a sort of model for the best pop song ever – simple, almost always about love and applicable to all. The sun touches and cheers as indiscriminately and universally the lives of as many ‘little darling’s, as Harrison’s much-played song. It is only right then that it should also cause an outpouring of unified artworks that share the same themes so neatly that then can be adopted, hummed, shouted into banks of daffodils, by any earthling – or un-earthling lucky enough to find the Golden record – when filled with the simple joys of the sun’s coming.