January, month of empty pockets! Let us endure this evil month, anxious as a theatrical producer’s forehead.
-- Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

The first month of the year on Julian and Gregorian calendars, well known in America and the UK as being bleak and depressing. January has 31 days, which is quite a few too many.

January includes:

January is here, with eyes that keenly glow,
A frost-mailed warrior
striding a shadowy steed of snow.
-- Edgar Fawcett

January was originally known as Januarius mensis in Latin, 'the month of Janus'. Janus was the god of portals, and also of beginnings and endings. Originally, January was not the first month of the year in the Roman calendar; that was March. But in 153 BC King Numa Pompilius (we think it was he) added on two more months, including January, to make the calender fit the solar year better.

It is deep January. The sky is hard.
The stalks are firmly rooted in ice.
-- Wallace Stevens, No Possum, No Sop, No Taters

Birthstone: Garnet (Constancy)

Flower: Carnation or Snowdrop.

January is also:

Sour Grapes (1921)
by
William Carlos Williams

January

Again I reply to the triple winds 
running chromatic fifths of derision 
outside my window: 
                               Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am 
bound more to my sentences 
the more you batter at me 
to follow you. 
                     And the wind, 
as before, fingers perfectly 
its derisive music. 

A very satisfying poem, things haven't changed much since William Carlos Williams wrote this in the early part of the last century. In it he describes the howling winds that blow cold and icy between tall buildings. I've always found the sound to be quite comforting and sleep inducing, a lot like being snuggled under blankets on a stormy night.

But in this instance the poet has employed a music phrase "Chromatic fifths. A fifth is the intermission sandwiched between C and G, D and A, and so on. By itself, a fifth has a pleasurable sound. "Chromatic" refers to movement up or down a scale; when you move chromatically, you move by half-steps: C to C#, C# to D, etc. The effect of chromatic fifths is at once grating and disconcerting.

Sources:

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:
http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/wcw-sg2.html#12

This month of the year got its name from the ancient Italian god Janus. In Latin, the month was Januarius, the month of Janus. The mythology of Janus is older than the Roman empire.

Janus was the god of doors and gateways, janua is latin for door. He had two faces so he could guard the entrance and exit.

You would think that January is the first month of the year because Janus is the god of beginnings. Nope. The oldest Roman calendar is only 10 months. Notice how it goes to December (tenth, as in Decagram).

Around 700 B.C. the calendar was readjusted and two months were added. They were the eleventh and twelfth months, Januarius and Februarius. The first was because there was a feast in honor of Janus. February was so named because it contained the Roman festival of purification (februum).

March continued to be the first month of the year until well after the Christian era begun. March 25, the date of the vernal equinox (and also the first day of spring), in the Julian Calendar.

The advent of the Gregorian calendar made January the first month and January 1st New Year's Day. This was prescribed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 to fix the errors in the Julian Calendar. It wasn't adopted in England and the colonies until 1752.

My facts taken from Thereby Hangs a Tale: Stories of Curious Word Origins by Charles Earle Funk.

January bucks
From inconstant rain
To divorced, dutiful quiescence;
It’s just in her nature.
She’s a performer, but finishes
Before her act is through
And abandons us for a day
To burn a stinky French cigarette
In Pittsburg.

That day is prospect:
Then I can stop visiting
My grandmother’s grave,
For in the warmth
Of the past morning

I’ve forgotten that
The cold had killed her;
I can burn my stinky
Indian cigar
behind my house
And relearn satisfaction.

I’ll die in some January.
I’m always done
Before she’s past.

Jan"u*a*ry (?), n. [L. Januarius, fr. Janus an old Latin deity, the god of the sun and the year, to whom the month of January was sacred; cf. janua a door, Skr. ya to go.]

The first month of the year, containing thirty-one days.

⇒ Before the adoption of New Style, the commencement of the year was usually reckoned from March 25.

 

© Webster 1913.

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