Snowetry: The Last Posting for the Year

Reprinted from Houseblog, my previous blog site:

Bradford Pear Blossoms

Winter’s last and only certain snow
Banks the pear branches white with blooms,
Trumpeting royalty to follow
On flowered grass from earthly looms.

Bare limbs hopeful with clutches of flowers
Dance like bridesmaids before the sun,
In rhythm to the tune of showers
As birds sing that winter is done.

As buds melt the last snow into green,
Warm sirens draw us out to the trees,
Seeking a corner of grace to glean,
Like the repentant heart trying to please.

Appearing in air from the cold;
On pear branches, drifts bank and grow,
As the chilled hand lets loose its hold:
Winter’s last and only certain snow.

I think my children would be disappointed if I did not post this poem on the blog this time of year.  The poem’s opening line originally read “The South’s last and only certain snow.”  It is not true of all the South, but the area where we live often has no snow in winter.  On other occasions in the past, we might have a day of snow.  Sometimes the snow would fall in the morning hours and be nearly all gone by evening.  But this year, we have three ground covering snows.  Over the last several days, this “last and only certain snow” has appeared all around us as Bradford pear trees are decked out with white flowers.  The particular variety of Bradford pear trees in this area do not produce fruit.  Just today I noticed that our fruit bearing pear trees are blossoming.  The ground areas are also covered with small white flowers.  Seasonal changes never cease to amaze me.

SNOWETRY: SPECIAL REPORT

Snowetry Special Report:

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.

A poem coming into being.

 

Robert Frost reciting his own poem:  Here.

Snowetry, Day 5

Snowetry: Poetry about snow. Most often read and meditated on by people in southern parts of the United States that gaze longingly at leaden skies and wonder why they have freezing cold weather, cold rain, but no very little snow.

Winter Remembered

by John Crowe Ransom

Two evils, monstrous either one apart,

Possessed me, and were long and loath at going:

A cry of Absence, Absence, in the heart,

And in the wood the furious winter blowing.

Think not, when fire was bright upon my bricks,

And past the tight boards hardly a wind could enter,

I glowed like them, the simple burning sticks,

Far from my cause, my proper heat and center.

Better to walk forth in the frozen air

And wash my wound in the snows; that would be healing;

Because my heart would throb less painful there,

Being caked with cold, and past the smart of feeling.

And where I walked, the murderous winter blast

Would have this body bowed, these eyeballs streaming,

And though I think this heart’s blood froze not fast

It ran too small to spare one drop for dreaming.

Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,

And tied our separate forces first together,

Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,

Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.

Not every image of winter and storms, not every description of snow, and remembrance of the cold is pleasant.  We hear such words as “harsh,” “bitter,” “biting,” “chilling,” “brutal,” and many more used of winter experiences.  Read a Jack London story about the Yukon, particularly “Love of Life” or “To Build a Fire,” and you will experience something far different from the song “Winter Wonderland.”

This poem by John Crowe Ransom uses winter as an outward metaphor to reflect the inner turmoil.  This is a poem of hardship, rejection, and hurt in a love relationship.  (Just the right message leading up to Valentine’s Day, right?)  It creates the image of a warm cabin with a blazing fire and two people in love.  But something happened and now the speaker is alone and in agony.  The harsh force of the winter weather is actually pain numbing to him in this time of agony.

Poetry captures emotional moments.  You may be happily in love (and I am), enjoying the warm fire inside (and I would), and finding a walk outside brisk and refreshing (and I possibly would).  Yet, the range of human experience tells you that this poem too describes a part of what we go through in the emotional seasons of life.

Ransom was a southerner, a literary critic, a teacher, and a poet.  He called himself a “major minor poet.”  He was largely responsible for the outbreak of literary genius that erupted at Vanderbilt University in the 1920s that was known as the Fugitive Poetry movement.  He and his key students, including Donald Davidson, Alan Tate, and Robert Penn Warren, became the leaders in the movement.  Ransom’s literary criticism contributed to the New Critics movement.  His literary, social, and political thought contributed to the Agrarian movement> His influence on American literature in general, and Southern literature, is inestimable.

In his latter days of fame and esteem, Ransom is seated third from the left, along with some of the men he mentored.

Snowetry, Day 4

Snowetry:  Poetry about snow. Most often read and meditated on by people in southern parts of the United States that gaze longingly at leaden skies and wonder why they have freezing cold weather, cold rain, but no  very little snow.

Snow flakes

by Emily Dickinson

I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town,
And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down.
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig,
And ten of my once stately toes
Are marshalled for a jig!

Emily Dickinson would have been sent to counseling in our day and time.  A psychiatrist would have been assigned to her case.  Perhaps even medication would have been prescribed.  her behavior was abnormal, her social reactions bizarre, her interactions with other people unacceptable.  Thankfully, she lived when she did and not now.  Her life story is not a happy one.  The saddest aspect is in regard to her personal rejection of Christianity.  She was withdrawn, aloof, fearful of human contact, and alienated from others.  She lived in tumultuous times, but never left comments upon the events that shook the nation (meaning that late War Between the States).

Miss Dickinson appeared fragile and delicate.  The best known photograph of her portrays an homey kind of attractiveness and inquisitiveness.  She appears to be a simple young lady, but don’t be fooled.  She had the constitution of a boxer, or a warrior.  Her weapon was a pen and her tactic was an economy of words.  Her poems strike quickly and powerfully.  The forms appear loose and dangling, but the content is usually quite tight and sharp.

“Snowflakes” is a good example of her work.  Her poems didn’t actually have titles, and most collections list them by numbers.  Beware of any editions of Ms. Dickinson’s work that has been edited by a punctuation conscious editor.  Her own dashes and rhythms betray genius, not lack of attention.  She writes with touches of humor and with depths of sorrow.  Long before the Imagist school of poetry, she was creating unforgettable images.  Almost not even noticed in her own day, she commands a center of attention in American poetry today.

Snowetry, Day 3

Snowetry:  Poetry about snow. Most often read and meditated on by people in southern parts of the United States that gaze longingly at leaden skies and wonder why they have freezing cold weather, cold rain, but no  very little snow.

A student of mine from years ago, Steve Pettit, took this picture this past week on Mount Magazine. The picture itself is a work of poetry. Or perhaps we can say it captures God’s poetry.

The Snowfall Is So Silent

  by Miguel de Unamuno
translated by Robert Bly

The snowfall is so silent,
so slow,
bit by bit, with delicacy
it settles down on the earth
and covers over the fields.
The silent snow comes down
white and weightless;
snowfall makes no noise,
falls as forgetting falls,
flake after flake.
It covers the fields gently
while frost attacks them
with its sudden flashes of white;
covers everything with its pure
and silent covering;
not one thing on the ground
anywhere escapes it.
And wherever it falls it stays,
content and gay,
for snow does not slip off
as rain does,
but it stays and sinks in.
The flakes are skyflowers,
pale lilies from the clouds,
that wither on earth.
They come down blossoming
but then so quickly
they are gone;
they bloom only on the peak,
above the mountains,
and make the earth feel heavier
when they die inside.
Snow, delicate snow,
that falls with such lightness
on the head,
on the feelings,
come and cover over the sadness
that lies always in my reason.

This poet, who was Spanish and lived from 1864 to 1936, and this poem are both new to me.  Also, when a work of poetry is in translation, the result is, as Alan Tate noted, two literary works.  I cannot read Spanish, so I have to enjoy this delightful English translation.

 

Snowetry, Day 2

Snowetry: Poetry about snow. Most often read and meditated on by people in southern parts of the United States that gaze longingly at leaden skies and wonder why they have freezing cold weather, cold rain, but no snow.

Addendum:  We DID have a snowfall yesterday, and today the world outside is quite beautiful.

Snow-flakes

BY HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

Out of the bosom of the Air,
      Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
      Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
            Silent, and soft, and slow
            Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
      Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
      In the white countenance confession,
            The troubled sky reveals
            The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
      Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
      Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
            Now whispered and revealed
            To wood and field.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was, in the heyday of 19th and early 20th century schooling, the Schoolroom Poet.  Sometimes, he is referred to as the “Fireside Poet.” Students read “The Village Blacksmith,”  “Hiawatha,” “Evangeline,” “Song of Life,” and “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”  My favorite has always been “My Lost Youth.”  Longfellow was a gifted and trained scholar.  He produced a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy along with his many other original compositions.  Bearded and august in appearance, he set the standard for what poetry should be.  He ruled the world of poetry until he was displaced by Walt Whitman.
I rarely find students from my public school or Christian school experiences who are familiar with Longfellow.  Outside of the joke (“You’re a poet and don’t know it, but your feet show it–they’re long fellows), I have rarely heard him referenced.  His work is criticized for its sentimentality and disdained because of his commitment to metrical forms.   He was classically trained, incredibly successful, and an upholder of the idea of public virtue. His poetry is not filled with narcissism or skepticism or railings against God, society, and morality.  Longfellow affirmed the basic morals of his day.  His faith seemed more a generic belief in God than orthodox Christianity. If you don’t have a collection of his poetry, or an anthology with a generous selection of his poems, take immediate action and acquire some of Longfellow’s works.  And read them.
He celebrated the American experience.  He stared, and did not merely glance over, the world around him.  Our history, the world of New England, the shapes and feel of nature, and human emotions all found expression in his poetry.
“Snowflakes,” an appealing topic for any with poetic desires, is a fine example of his skill.  Hopefully, you can read it while gazing out the window at snow from last night or snow still falling.  Read it a few times and notice the images and layers within it.  Like snowflakes, it is light, cool, and revealing.

Snowetry, Day 1

Snowetry:  Poetry about snow.  Most often read and meditated on by people in southern parts of the United States that gaze longingly at leaden skies and wonder why they have freezing cold weather, cold rain, but no snow.

Dust of Snow

By Robert Frost

1874–1963

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

This poem, light, airy, cool, and refreshing, captures the impact of a small, unexpected action.  A mere bird, a crow, sitting on a limb happens to shake a bit of loose snow, something so light as to be called dust of snow, onto the person.  Insignificant, but commanding a moment’s attention and, like all poetic experiences, totally mind and mood changing.  If there were to be a didactic tag-on line, it would tell us to look, to be aware, to see, and to expect something, something God-sent, to change our perspective.