The Surprise of Lapwing
We began this book club where Katherine May begins Wintering, with Edward Thomas’ poem Thaw. “Thaw” is also the title of the last part her epilogue. After hot water and after cold water, comes thaw. Blessed thaw. Winter always does come but it also always does pass.
But right before the season ends, May meditates on Sylvia Plath’s poem “Wintering,” the inspiration for the book’s title. (“Wintering” is also our By Heart poem for February. It’s not too late to gather ye your honey, while ye may.)
May tells us that “Wintering” is the poem which Plath intended to end her collection Ariel. But history had other ideas — ones that left no room for a sweet taste of spring.
In the very depths of her own winter, Plath seems to reach for a way to survive through work — women’s work, the kind that entails quiet hours in the house. ‘Winter is for women,’ she says in ‘Wintering.’ It is perhaps a time when the feminine arts come into their own, but she is also commenting, I think, on the lean times that women can survive. It leaves me wishing that there had been more for her to do: more honey to spin; more bees to feed.”
The fact that I have been able to survive my own winter is testimony to the previous winters that have snowed and thawed across my days. My inner bees are busy. If I am quiet, I can hear them hum.
May’s Wintering does not end “like a neat narrative arc should: life is settled again, certain; all my problems are solved, all my worries resolved.” Instead, “several winters came at once,” changing the course of the book. But now she knows what to do: “When I started feeling the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favoured child: with kindness and love.” She takes a walk, in preparation for the signs of change this winter will bring.
At the edge of the sea she thinks she sees the sight that began the book — a murmuration of starlings. But no, these birds are too large. It’s different this time. It’s lapwing, and they are doing something she never knew they could do..
A change on the wing, in the air, in me.
Black polka dots splash the edge of the sea—
The skill of happiness and of sadness too.
I never knew I could do this: I do.
Read and Write with Us
Each week I am writing a poem drawn from Wintering and from Edward Thomas’ Thaw. Won’t you write your own winter quatrain too?
We’re reading Wintering on a schedule that follows the calendar, from fall to winter to spring.
February 9: Hot Water & Starling (Prologue-September-October-November)
February 16: Cold Water & Gulls (December-January-February)
February 23: Thaw & Lapwing (March-Late March)
Browse previous Wintering book club posts
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro