When winter first begins to bite
and stones crack in the frosty night,
when pools are black and trees are bare,
’tis evil in the Wild to fare.
In this time of the sun’s greatest ebb when our hearts are gladdened knowing that with Midwinter come and gone, winter is now half over, my thoughts are drawn to Midwinter yule’s warmer twin, Midsummer’s lithe.
In Tolkien’s writings, lithe was the name for the days around Midsummer’s Day when the nights are shortest, just as yule was (and still is) the name for the days around Midwinter’s Day when the days are shortest.
Lithe is today’s spelling of Old English līþa. But outside the Shire, lithe is now a word almost unknown to most of us. It seems to have no children in today’s English, nor did I find any words kin to it in our sister-tongues. The Wiktionary link I have given above tells no more than this little-trusted tale (bold mine):
Apparently related to liþe (“mild”)’ probably cognate with Serbo-Croatian ljeto, Czech léto, Polish lato, Russian лето (léto, “summer, year”).
How could an Old English word about summer come to us without kindred words in any tongue nearer our own than in the far-off speech of our cousins’ cousins’ cousins?
Are there any that are nearer to us than those?