Poems in Abomination of Winter

I get my news about the U.S. rather slowly. For example, I only just learned of the snowstorm in the Northeast. Much as I would like to gloat and taunt my NYC-dwelling friends about the fact that it never snows here in Chengdu, the reality of the situation is this: I am drinking my coffee hot, the down comforters are on the beds, I am currently wearing two wool sweaters, and although I have not yet put on any thermal underwear, that moment is approaching rapidly. All of this can mean but one thing–winter has arrived–and there is no emoji capable of accurately depicting my feelings on the subject.

Fortunately, where emoji’s fail, poetry does not. There is a wide and varied poetic literature inspired by the coldest season. It has caused some poets to wax philosophical, as in Robert Frost’s wonderful “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I myself have tried my hand at profound winter reflection:

Winter is my death.
With Persephone
I sleep on Hades’s sofa.
Winter is my drawing in.
My limbs grow stiff;
my breath, barren.
Winter is my tail consumed:
my brittle bones
that curse the dirt.
Winter is my standing still,
waiting
for rebirth.

The whole “cycle of the seasons = cycle of life” angle does give winter a nobler mien, but I have to confess that I don’t buy it. I loathe winter, and I’m convinced that all sensible people must feel likewise. When people tell me they would miss the seasons if they lived somewhere tropical, I think that surely they’ve never had the experience or they’re lying or they’ve suffered some form of permanent brain injury. None of that means they’re not wonderful people. They’ve just completely broken from reality where winter is concerned.

Shakespeare saw clearly the true nature of the season:

Winter

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When Blood is nipped and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-who;
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-who;
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

I have also made an effort at this sort of realistic wintry depiction, though obviously nothing to equal the work of the Bard:

Shoveling Snow

Bowing down, scraping low,
Sky lead gray, falling slow,
Slipping feet, curses flow,
Back in flames, shoveling snow.

 

Seven New York winters and these four lines are all I have to show for it, though it is at least written in amphimacers–poetic feet in which two stressed syllables bracket an unstressed syllable /u/–so not a total loss.

The grand prize for winter-despising poetry, however, does not go to Shakespeare. Ezra Pound has surpassed all others in this noble field. There can be no better way to finish this post than quoting him in full:

Ancient Music

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

And if you’re having difficulty following this poem–I’m not sure that’s possible, but IF–checkout this wikipedia article that explains the poem Pound is paradying.

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