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"Some Blessed Hope”: Poems for Winter

Gregory Luce - Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce

 

“One must have a mind of winter,” Wallace Stevens says, to regard the season’s bleak landscape “and not to think/Of any misery in the sound of the wind,/In the sound of a few leaves….” Stevens’ famous poem, in evoking the barest and most minimal elements of the winter scene, enjoins the reader to look carefully, “[a]nd, nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” Perhaps the very barrenness of winter aids clearer seeing.

I am not a fan of winter, having grown up in Texas and Oklahoma where the winters of my childhood were often mild and even when very cold, were short. Nevertheless I admit that winter has its own kind of beauty and perhaps allows one to be more contemplative in and of one’s surroundings.

William Carlos William was certainly seeing clearly when he wrote one of my favorite winter poems, “Winter Trees”:

All the complicated details

of the attiring and

the disattiring are completed!

A liquid moon

moves gently among

the long branches.

Thus having prepared their buds

against a sure winter

the wise trees

stand sleeping in the cold.

 

I too have often gazed at the skeletal trees of winter and been captivated by their austere beauty as the bare limbs seem to grasp at the sky. The sky itself in my adopted home, the Washington, D.C. area, has a special blue color on clear days that I have never seen elsewhere:

Gifts From the Cold

(for Naomi)

Bitter cold

but the sky

is that perfect

Washington winter blue.

The wind slashes across

my upturned face but

I drink in the view

like cold water.

I am rooted

to the pavement

between the lanes

the way I stood

transfixed last night

when you stood

in my doorway.

 

Another favorite that describes a winter landscape yet also suggests larger implications is Anthony Hecht’s “Crows in Winter,” which begins

Here’s a meeting

of morticians in our trees.

They agree in klaxon voices:

things are looking good.

The snowfields signify a landscape of clean skulls….

The poet continues to observe and, more importantly, listen to the crows:

The first cosmetic pinks

of dawn amuse them greatly.

They foresee the expansion of graveyards,

they talk real estate.

Cras, they say,

repeating a rumor

among the whitened branches.

Finally these musings lead to a darker conclusion, fulfilling the foreshadowing implied by the crows’ conversations

And the wind, a voiceless thorn,

goes over the details,

making a soft promise

to take our breath away.

 

I, too, sometimes have a mind of winter:

Mind of Winter

Regard the purity

of fresh snowfall

under the icy moon

before sunlight washes

over and it crusts

and darkens to the color

of ash or soot.

The cold dry wind

sweeps over it

and whispers

forget forget forget

to hold nothing

in the mind

is everything.

 

Finally, my very favorite winter verse, a poem by Thomas Hardy that describes the bleakness of winter, yet concludes with a tiny possibility of redemption:

I leant upon a coppice gate

When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter's dregs made desolate

 The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

 Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.

 

The land's sharp features seemed to be

The Century's corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

 Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

Seemed fervourless as I.

 

At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

 In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growing gloom.

 

So little cause for carolings

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware.

 

Dear Reader, I hope the New Year brings hope and happiness to you.

 

Notes

Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man”
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45235/the-snow-man-56d224a6d4e90

 Anthony Hecht, “Crows in Winter”
https://uudbq.org/wp/?event=weekly-poetry-crows-in-winter

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Gregory Luce is the author of four books of poetry and has published widely in print and online. He is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA. More at: https://dctexpoet.wordpress.com/
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives.

©2020 Gregory Luce
©2020 Publication Scene4 Magazine

 

 

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January 2020

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