Saturday, November 27, 2010

Six Reasons for Reading Poetry in Winter

1. A calligraphy of silence

Poetry is a form of art born out of stillness, a calligraphy of silence. Winter is a season of prolonged quietness & far-flung voids, a frozen expanse against which syllables take on a new resonance:

“And now that the moon who gives men glistening bodies
is in her exaltation, and can look down on the sun
I see descending from the ships at dawn
slim naked men from Cnossos, smiling their archaic smile
of those that without fail come back again”

from Middle of the World by D.H. Lawrence 

2. Melon hat, boa feathers and a rickety broom

Winter is a season of faint mystery – a mystery brought about by ice, hail and blizzards. Cold fosters eerie sensations. Stanzas are doors that open on empty rooms, whose inhabitants have long vacated the premises, leaving behind a melon hat, boa feathers and a rickety broom.

I awoke so far away
and strange,
wandering behind my face
as though I had hidden my feelings
in the senseless relief of the moon."

3. Moment’s forest 

If it’s true that spring is a season of exultation and budding love, then winter is the season of objectivity and clarity – a heart’s needle:

“I imagine this midnight moment’s forest.
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move”

4. Contrast

Contrast. Everything in winter is about contrast – every hue is a counterpoint to the snow’s  whiteness:

"What is this dark and silent caravan
that being nowhere, neither comes nor goes;
that being never, has no hour or span;
of which we can say only that it flows? "

5. A blue egg is laid

Winter is a season of dull hypocrisy: we are hardly at ease, hardly ever ourselves, quaint animals tucked away  inside a shell of gloves, scarves, boots and jackets.

"…Solitude! the blue egg laid by a great sea-bird, and the bays at morning all littered with gold lemons! – Yesterday it was! The bird had taken off!"

from Anabasis by Saint-John Perse 

6. The describable season
Winter is a describable season, whose tenets are easy to nail down. Autumn -  diffuse, sonorous and glittery -  makes for a complex slithering  into melancholy. Winter is the simple, straight-forward season par excellence:

"The sun is spent, and now his flasks
    Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
            The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph."


Conrad DiDiodato said...


all splendid winter reflections. Each both complements but (as you've said)serves as imaginative counter-points to the poetic texts.

Especially the sixth: it's nice to read some Donne again.

John Hayes said...

A beautiful essay--I'll certainly return to this. & yes, the poetic extracts wove together nicely with your meditations.

Ana Thomas said...

Ce-mi place Irina ca l-ai inclus si pe Nichita!
Multam fain!
Stii ce ma gandeam?Cat de trist este ca uitam asa usor de valtoarea vietii asteia...hmmm.Multumesc din nou...

Mairi said...

Any one of these is reason enough. And what a great selection in support.

parrish lantern said...

Winter landscape, with rooks

water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone,
plunges headlong into that black pond
where, absurd and out-of-season, a single swan
floats chaste as snow,taunting the clouded mind
which hungers to haul the white reflection down.

The austere sun descends above the fen,
an orange cyclops-eye, scorning to look
longer on this landscape of chagrin;
feathered dark in thought, I stalk like a rook,
brooding as the winter night comes on.

Last summer's reeds are al engraved in ice
as is your image in my eye; dry frost
glazes the window of my hurt;what solace
can be struck from rock to make hearts waste
grow green again? who'd walk in this bleak place?

Sylvia Plath

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