You think winter will never end, and then, when you don’t expect it, when you have almost forgotten it, warmth comes and a different light.
To Know The Dark
by Wendell Berry
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
A Winter Bluejay
by Sara Teasdale
Crisply the bright snow whispered, Crunching beneath our feet; Behind us as we walked along the parkway, Our shadows danced, Fantastic shapes in vivid blue. Across the lake the skaters Flew to and fro, With sharp turns weaving A frail invisible net. In ecstasy the earth Drank the silver sunlight; In ecstasy the skaters Drank the wine of speed; In ecstasy we laughed Drinking the wine of love. Had not the music of our joy Sounded its highest note? But no, For suddenly, with lifted eyes you said, “Oh look!” There, on the black bough of a snow flecked maple, Fearless and gay as our love, A bluejay cocked his crest! Oh who can tell the range of joy Or set the bounds of beauty?
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.
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.
I am resolved throughout the year To lay my vices on the shelf; A godly, sober course to steer And love my neighbors as myself— Excepting always two or three Whom I detest as they hate me.
I am resolved—to flirt no more, It leads to strife and tribulation; Not that I used to flirt before, But as a bar against temptation. Here I except (cut out the names) Perfectly Platonic flames.
I am resolved—that vows like these, Though lightly made, are hard to keep; Wherefore I’ll take them by degrees, Lest my back-slidings make me weep. One vow a year will see me through; and I’ll begin with Number Two.
Good Riddance, But Now What?
By Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971)
Come, children, gather round my knee; Something is about to be. Tonight’s December thirty-first, Something is about to burst. The clock is crouching, dark and small, Like a time bomb in the hall. Hark! It’s midnight, children dear. Duck! Here comes another year.
Poetry, for me, is the answer to, ‘How does one stay sane when private lives are being ransacked by public events?’ It’s something that hangs over your head all the time.
by Lisel Mueller
It hovers in dark corners before the lights are turned on, it shakes sleep from its eyes and drops from mushroom gills, it explodes in the starry heads of dandelions turned sages, it sticks to the wings of green angels that sail from the tops of maples.
It sprouts in each occluded eye of the many-eyed potato, it lives in each earthworm segment surviving cruelty, it is the motion that runs from the eyes to the tail of a dog, it is the mouth that inflates the lungs of the child that has just been born.
It is the singular gift we cannot destroy in ourselves, the argument that refutes death, the genius that invents the future, all we know of God.
It is the serum which makes us swear not to betray one another; it is in this poem, trying to speak.
Why We Tell Stories (Excerpt)
by Lisel Mueller
We sat by the fire in our caves, and because we were poor, we made up a tale about a treasure mountain that would open only for us
and because we were always defeated, we invented impossible riddles only we could solve, monsters only we could kill, women who could love no one else and because we had survived sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, we discovered bones that rose from the dark earth and sang as white birds in the trees
Because the story of our life becomes our life
Because each of us tells the same story but tells it differently
and none of us tells it the same way twice
Because grandmothers looking like spiders want to enchant the children and grandfathers need to convince us what happened happened because of them
and though we listen only haphazardly, with one ear, we will begin our story with the word and
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”
by Ted Kooser (1939 –
The old black dog comes in one evening with the first few snowflakes on his back and falls asleep, throwing his bad leg out at our excitement. This is the night when one of us gets to say, as if it were news, that no two snowflakes are ever alike; the night when each of us remembers something snowier. The kitchen is a kindergarten steamy with stories. The dog gets stiffly up and limps away, seeking a quiet spot at the heart of the house. Outside, in silence, with diamonds in his fur, the winter night curls round the legs of the trees, sleepily blinking snowflakes from his lashe
Flying at Night
by Ted Kooser
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations. Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies like a snowflake falling on water. Below us, some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death, snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn back into the little system of his care. All night, the cities, like shimmering novas, tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.
“We all have reasons for moving. I move to keep things whole.”
Mark Strand: Keeping Things Whole
Lines for Winter
by Mark Strand
Tell yourself as it gets cold and gray falls from the air that you will go on walking, hearing the same tune no matter where you find yourself— inside the dome of dark or under the cracking white of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow. Tonight as it gets cold tell yourself what you know which is nothing but the tune your bones play as you keep going. And you will be able for once to lie down under the small fire of winter stars. And if it happens that you cannot go on or turn back and you find yourself where you will be at the end, tell yourself in that final flowing of cold through your limbs that you love what you are.”
by Mark Strand
Not everyone knows what he shall sing at the end, Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end, Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.
When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat, When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down No longer appear, not everyone knows what he’ll discover instead. When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky
Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight, Not everyone knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.
—from Rattle #17, Summer 2002 Tribute to Pulitzer Prize Winners