To Keep But Never Understand

At a certain point all writing is political, whether the writer realizes it or not, because it positions itself a certain angle. It stands, whether it likes it or not, in relation to its time.

Sean O’Brien

At the Solstice

by Sean O’Brien

We say Next time we’ll go away,
But then the winter happens, like a secret

We’ve to keep yet never understand
As daylight turns to cinema once more:

A lustrous darkness deep in ice-age cold,
And the print in need of restoration

Starting to consume itself
With snowfall where no snow is falling now.

Or could it be a cloud of sparrows, dancing
In the bare hedge that this gale of light

Is seeking to uproot? Let it be sparrows, then,
Still dancing in the blazing hedge,

Their tender fury and their fall,
Because it snows, because it burns.


For the past couple of years I am in a race with the start of winter and the on-set of cold weather, a rush to see how many outdoor projects I can finish.   This year I discovered, late in the fall, the solution for a problem that had been vexing me all summer, just as the number of days above freezing were dwindling.   I had ordered screens for the windows I had installed a year ago back in May, and the brand name company who made them apparently has decided to stop making screens, because my order was never completed.  Then in late November, I realized there were stock storm windows available at my local building supply store that would fit my windows, with just a minor clever tweak at instillation. After buying one to prove my theory correct, we bought three more and got them in last weekend.  Now I am tempted to try and get two more on the second story of the north side of the house, where the wind blows, this coming Sunday, but it means making many trips up and down a ladder in the cold.  The question I ponder – is it worth it? 

Increasingly, that seems to be a question I ask myself about a lot of things that pull at me lately, wanting my attention and time?  Is it worth it?  I think the answer is yes, but it’s going to be miserable, or at best uncomfortable, like many of the other things I contemplate that very same question.   Life is not made up of a series of tasks that are pleasant.   Someone has to muck out the stalls, clean the cat pan, suffer through another boring TEAMs meeting on the very same topic as the previous week by the inept project lead who can’t seem to take notes or make decisions.  Life is a slog these days more often than not.   How does one wax the sleds so that life pulls a little easier or even glides ever so slightly downhill once again?  

One of the blessings of Fourteen Lines, is that I have come to appreciate poets that I had glossed over years before.  Robert Frost is one such poet.   The deeper I read Frost the more I enjoy his perspective.  Maybe I am finally catching up to him.  I have read this poem a few winters, considering it.  But it wasn’t until this week that several lines jumped off the page and grabbed me.  I appreciate Frost extending a literary hand and pulling me closer.  For those of us that experience an actual winter, it can become a time, to come in out of the cold and ponder the stores in our cellar. 

A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.


An Old Man’s Winter Night

by Robert Frost

All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him—at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off;—and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon,—such as she was,
So late-arising,—to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man—one man—can’t fill a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It’s thus he does it of a winter night.

Published by

A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. I am pleased to offer Fourteenlines as an ad and cookie free poetry resource, to allow the poetry to be presented on its own without distractions. Fourteenlines is a testament to the power of the written word, for anyone wanting a little more poetry in their life.

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