december 2011

Winter in Big Fork, Montana (photo: Tyler Busby)

‘One Must Have A Mind Of Winter’

As the freeze sets in, the poets ponder seasonal moods: Winter in Verse

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


Robert Frost at his farm: ‘A light he was to no one but himself’

An Old Man's Winter Night
by Robert Frost

All out-of-doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him--at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off; --and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon-such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man--one man--can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.


Winter Evening (painting by Diana Johnson): ‘Not less excellent, except for our less susceptibility in the afternoon, was the charm, last evening, of a January sunset--the air had so much life and sweetness, that it was a pain to come within doors.’ --Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Snow Storm
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden's end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

   Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.


‘There’s a certain slant of light, on winter afternoons…’ (photo by Serena Matthews)

There's a certain Slant of light
by Emily Dickinson

There's a certain Slant of light,
On winter Afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the meanings, are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair.--
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens.
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 'tis like the distance
On the look of death.


‘Launch'd o'er the prairies wide--across the lakes,/To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.’

To a Locomotive in Winter
by Walt Whitman

Thee for my recitative!
Thee in the driving storm even as now, the snow, the winter-day declining;
Thee in thy panoply, thy measur'd dual throbbing and thy beat convulsive;
Thy black cylindric body, golden brass, and silvery steel;
Thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting rods, gyrating, shuttling at thy sides;
Thy metrical, now swelling pant and roar--now tapering in the distance;
Thy great protruding head-light fix'd in front;
Thy long, pale, floating vapor-pennants, tinged with delicate purple;
The dense and murky clouds out-belching from thy smoke-stack;
Thy knitted frame, thy springs and valves, the tremulous twinkle of thy wheels;
Thy train of cars behind, obedient, merrily following,
Through gale or calm, now swift, now slack, yet steadily careering;
Type of the modern! emblem of motion and power! pulse of the continent!
For once come serve the Muse and merge in verse, even as here I see thee,
With storm, and buffeting gusts of wind, and falling snow;
By day thy warning ringing bell to sound its notes,
By night thy silent signal lamps to swing.
Fierce-throated beauty!
Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music! thy swinging lamps at night,
Thy piercing, madly-whistled laughter! thy echoes, rumbling like an earthquake, rousing all,      
Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding;
(No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib piano thine,)
Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return'd,
Launch'd o'er the prairies wide--across the lakes,
To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.

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