Trees curl their dendritic appendages inward, protecting their nakedness from the elements. The atmosphere is withdrawn, seeming silent —lifeless. Without any dressage winter appears bleak and barren. Blossoms have long vanished with summer’s blush. No harvest grain endures and even the leaves have abandoned their lodgings. Nothing but essentials exist: the stalwart trunk, the hard-packed soil, the sluggish undertow. Storms manifest in rolling waves, their twisted gales unyielding, wilting all but the hardiest. In this desolation one lone bird, perched on a shorn bough, sings in praise of chilling tempests and frozen nights. My heart opens to this feathered cantatrice and wonders at the trespasser’s joy. How can such a creature, so far from the comforts of warm tides and ripe fruits bespeak such merriment?
Winter’s gelid embrace impels me into hiding. I retreat to the security of snug abode and blazing hearth. I shut down within my vault, forsaking the blue-grey world and its starkness. The winged interloper, however, descends upon my windowsill each forenoon, impervious to winter’s mockery, and trills to me in ecstasy. She inspires me to welcome the nothing that is alive outside, to reach for nature’s bony arms, and to see beauty in her skeleton. Can leafless wood be alluring? Can I find charm in the exposed? Can scaffolding be exquisite?
Winter’s bareness is a frightening reminder of my impending hoary decay, of feeble limbs and torpid mind creeping around the corner. I am not ready to meet my evening shadow. I can never love the sooty fog that lingers in pools across the wasteland during this season, yet I want to appreciate the strength of what is left behind. I shall revel with the tenacious roots as their icicle encrusted berries sway in the gusts. I need to greet the arctic blast with joy like my cheerful songbird. In so doing, perhaps I can also learn to welcome the winter of my life, attempt to embrace old age, and venture to blithely sing whilst in my doddering steps.
A blackbird soars over the snow laden bay reminding me that winter also provides the freedom of an empty canvas. Underneath the close-packed covering lie half-dead seeds anticipating first thaw. In the same expectant soil my stories mark time beneath the frost, ciphers awaiting discovery. My songs are not jetsam, utterances hashed out of miscellaneous font and hodgepodge type. I have reaped kindred thoughts from autumnal pasts, fashioning them anew in agony. I have sown these handful of strophic pips, watering them in lachrymose turmoil. Now I must let the verses hibernate until some future summer when, awakened by an unknown generation’s clarion, they will bear issue.
Winter’s solitude creates a space for reflection, but it demands patience. This is not the season of titillation, it is one of yearnings. Between the ponderous silences and the raging mistrals, winter forces me to keep vigil for what will be, without promise of tomorrow. The mantle between life and death flutters, a divide as capricious now as the howling of wind and wave. Months of dark and bitter cold intensify the desolation and dim memories of hope. In isolation’s communion, however, a faded lamp appears to light my inarticulate expressions. A sibilation threads through the vacant darkness, piercing my hebetude. “Go forth into the uncharted,” it whispers, “the wisdom of dotage is exploration.” Risking frostbite and failure, therefore, I venture out under starlight with no destination, no plan, no ready remarks at hand. Lost and lost again while searching how to capture the wordless moment, I gaze at the flakes wafting across a deserted scape. In their infinitesimal transience live imponderable themes and winter’s ultimate lesson: fallow field or frail creature we keep moving in a circle towards a homeland from which no tales return.
Winter is a beloved theme for many poets, tackling subjects of sleep, solitude, and death using the season’s imagery. “Alms” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost, and “Voronezh” by Anna Akhmatova are three that discuss love, hope, and loss.
What are your favorite things about the winter season? Have any winter themed poems you want to share with us?