Thirty days hath September, April, June and November; All the rest have thirty-one. Except February, which is endless .

SO HERE WE ARE, six or seven weeks into February, and it's only the 22nd.

Again the calendar has come up with the anonymous poem above, which I found in the old Washington Daily News many years ago. I keep the poem pinned to the calendar as a warning of February's fraudulent pretense to brevity.

Not that anyone would be fooled by February once he got used to the pace and mood of it. It is longer than the War of the Austrian Succession and less exhilarating than the flu. It is the Silas Marner of months.

February is not merely boring but baleful. And that is when February is at its best. It is almost never at its best.

This month congeals the minds as well as the nasal passages. And it warps time. The only thing that goes fast in February is the occasional notion that life might be getting better. The only thing February can be depended upon to do quickly is to repeal hope.

It depresses the human spirit to a point far below abject pessimism. It makes the sunrise melancholy and the sunset grim. Most shoelaces break in February than in the other 11 months combined. More cars don't start. More that do start then slide into snowbanks and mudholes. The bottoms fall out of more trash bags. More people lose their cleaning tickets, forget to fill out check stubs, misplace their keys or spouses, trip over the dog's dish, lose terrible battles in closets with wire coat hangers, and run out of firewood and vermouth.

February is the season there is no man for. It is a month of Mondays, a month that warms no heart but a virus's, a month that presents an addled sequence of snow, sleet, rain, freezing rain, fog, freezing fog, floods, mud, drizzles, sudden gales and steady storms of old oak leaves, trash, parking summonses, forgotten Christmas bills, surly solicitations and expensive prescriptions.

When February provides a glimmer of sunshine, it is just a trick, an exercise in irony, a sort of stage lighting for the entrance of furies undreamed of.

February brings winds strong enough to blow polar bears off their feet. And it brings pseudo-whimsical little breezes too soft to blow the flame off a candle. They don't have to; the little breezes of February freeze the flame where it stands.

This is the month when the furnances swoon, the snow shovel breaks, the battery dies, the fire smokes, the milk carton bursts, the zipper sticks, the vacuum cleaner chokes on dried mud, the cat has nightmares and the basement door blows open at 2 a.m., causing both the edgy cat and the paranoid furnace to run amok.

No, there is nothing short about February but the temper of man. And woman. And dog and cat. And inanimate object, which, in February, can become a living fiend.

There is no explanation for February's malevolence, but there is an explanation of why it seems to catch us unaware each year.

We make the mistake of thinking of February as the second month of the year, near the beginning of the cycle. This is just a quirk of the calendar. The true year, the human cycle, begins in September. That is when summer and vacation end, when jobs intensify and school starts and great undertakings are undertaken. So September is when the true beginning occurs.

All right then. If September is the first month, February is the sixth. It is the low point of the cycle, the bottoming out before the sunny ascent into spring and summer.

So February is the weariest and dreariest, the bleakest month of all. And because it is also the longest month, it is the hardest to endure.