Briton Rivière, Una and Lion, nineteenth century.
Briton Rivière, Una and Lion, nineteenth century.

I was thinking about March and the saying that it comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, or the opposite depending on the year. I figured there was probably some kind of folk tale  that went along with it. Turns out I was wrong, but I’ll share what I found out anyway.

An English proverb, one that became a common Pennsylvania saying  is the one we’re familiar with:

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

In the 19th century it was used as a prediction contingent on a year’s early March weather:

If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.

Often times, early March is  marked by biting cold and winter storms. The month begins with a lion’s roar. But, by the end of the month, the weather can often be warm, spring-like and docile. Kind of like a gentle lamb. It happens that way a lot, but, not all the time,as we in Ohio know. The reverse is supposedly true as well. If the weather is nice early, it comes in like a lamb and will go out like a lion.

One of the earliest citations is in one Thomas Fuller’s 1732 compendium, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British. The authors give the wording as “Comes in like a Lion, goes out like a Lamb.” In fact, the book has several excellent March proverbs, which don’t seem to have had the same lasting power:

So many mists in March you see / So many frosts in May will be.

A Peck of March-Dust, and a Shower in May / Makes the Corn green, and the Fields gay.

March many-Weathers rain’d and blow’d / But March grass never did good.

The actual origin may have to do with the stars. The constellation Leo, the lion, is rising in the east at the beginning of March, hence the “comes in like a lion,” while Aries, the ram, sets in the west at the end of March, and so “will go out like a lamb.”

None are the story I was hoping for, but interesting nonetheless. I’m not a big fan of March. It gives us teases of spring, but then frigid days like today. I’m not really happy until the temperatures are consistently over 70° and the sun is out.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.


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