This morning Garrison Keillor observed in his radio broadcast that folks in Lake Wobegon were bracing for a brown Christmas. Seems that here, not far from that mythical place, we’re doing the same. Oh, we’ve had our chances. A couple of solid snowstorms in these parts have already closed schools for a day and wreaked havoc on the highways. But the snow left as quickly as it came, and our December is much less white than those to which we are accustomed.
In times like these, when we’re tempted to go out on the patio barefoot and in shorts (well, I’m not, but I hear of such things), we can call on poetry to bring the season to its senses. Enjoy these 10 great winter poems to bring the color back to the season.
That’s no December sky!
Surely ’tis June
Holds now her state on high
Queen of the noon.
Only the tree-tops bare
Crowning the hill,
Clear-cut in perfect air,
Warn us that still
Winter, the aged chief,
Mighty in power,
Exiles the tender leaf,
Exiles the flower.
— Robert Fuller Murray, more Robert F. Murray: His Poems
The air is hot and then it’s cold.
The water wants out so open
your mouth and say, snow.
The water wants out right there
on the tongue. The flaw is always
breaking away. Watch the fire.
It wants out of the place
so it splinters like insects
out of a hole you pour light into.
Fragment, then drift or alarm.
— Beth Bachmann, from Do Not Rise
Your thighs are appletrees
whose blossoms touch the sky.
Which sky? The sky
where Watteau hung a lady’s
slipper. Your knees
are a southern breeze — or
a gust of snow. Agh! what
sort of man was Fragonard?
— As if that answered
anything. — Ah, yes. Below
the knees, since the tune
drops that way, it is
one of those white summer days,
the tall grass of your ankles
flickers upon the shore —
Which shore? —
the sand clings to my lips —
Agh, petals maybe. How
should I know?
Which shore? Which shore?
— the petals from some hidden
appletree— Which shore?
I said petals from an appletree.
— William Carlos Williams, from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1: 1909-1939
Should I remove my shoes?
In her wimple, kneeling on the floor,
Sister Cecilia’s rhythm caught my ear,
and only then my eye, her sleeves rolled,
her arms dimpling with the strain,
the sound of winter pines rubbing in the wind,
caught in her song and scrubbing.
Should I touch my hat,
passing her on the narrow stairs—a breeze
follows her habit of Poor Clares—the brim
across my stare, do I dare to raise my hand?
How is it those trees are more beautiful in snow
against half-hidden seeds and wrap of bark?
How shall I confess these reveries, and less
than that, what becomes of love not blessed?
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 farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, for more see Collected Poems and Translations
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.
— Wallace Stevens, for more see Selected Poems
There are hundreds of names for snow, you say,
unlatching the fortochka in the morning light.
Let’s name them all, love, along the way.
Last night snow danced its boreal ballet
of whorls and swirls, fine arabesques in white—
you know hundreds of names for snow, you say.
Down crystalline paths we slip and spin, surveying
ice falls, tall drifts, single flakes in flight—
my love and I count them along the way.
In my head, sparking visions start to play:
once love’s begun, who knows? Perhaps we might—
There are hundreds of names for snow, you say,
gently, their meanings subtle, hard to convey—
elusive as love’s many meanings last night.
I wait. You walk—silent—along your way.
Feeling foolish, unschooled, I whisk away
a sudden, childish tear obscuring my sight.
You know hundreds of names for love, you say:
I’ll learn them all, love, along my way.
— Katherine E. Young, author of Day of the Border Guards
So wild it was when we first settled here.
Spruce roots invaded the cellar like thieves.
Skunks bred on the doorstep, cluster flies jeered.
Ice-melt dripped shingles and screws from the eaves.
We slept by the stove, we ate meals with our hands.
At dusk we heard gunshots, and wind and guitars.
We imagined a house with a faucet that ran
From a well that held water. We canvassed the stars.
If love is an island, what map was our hovel?
Dogs howled on the mainland, our cliff washed away.
We hunted for clues with a broken-backed shovel.
We drank all the wine, night dwindled to grey.
When we left, a flat sunrise was threatening snow,
But the frost heaves were deep. We had to drive
— Dawn Potter, author of Same Old Story
So provisional, it almost doesn’t
of everything concrete, the frozen closes in
on asphalt, then vanishes
In the streetlight, the sky is all dust,
pale and full of flutter;
on the ground, damp pockets of no longer.
Tentative as first snow reluctant to land,
we move again toward the other,
remember the chill,
the pleasure of complete cover.
— Marjorie Maddox, author of Local News from Someplace Else
The road is long as I travel south
and the sun is low in the white sky.
Last night I woke to a great silence,
in a house that is anything but silent
by day. Old pines keep watch
over that dwelling, and the moon
keeps watch, and I wish
for this kind of watching,
but my bedroom in the town where I live
looks out over streetlights and the sounds
of cars and sometimes sirens. In my room,
the roads seem short, and I wonder
if tonight I will dream of the long road
home, and how the sun bathed the trees
in gold, and how the sumacs leaned with flowers
the color of some wine whose name
I can’t remember, near the trees whose names
I’ve never known, now strung with long red necklaces.
— L.L. Barkat, author of Love, Etc.
Photo by Larry Smith, Creative Commons license via Flickr. All poems are public domain or used by permission of author or publisher.
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