Five Wintry Poems

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Something about the cold and dark of a British winter makes me want to curl up and read (and read and read). I find that with every passing winter I consume more and more poems, and that these poems sometimes lend themselves to certain seasons. These are five of my favourites, all rather different, but each wonderful.

  1. Christmas Eve: My Mother Dressing – Toi Derricotte
    ‘mascara blackened her lashes until they swept down like feathers;
    her eyes deepened until they shone from far away.’

This poem speaks through its intricate attention to detail – each line painting the picture of Derricotte’s mother. This detail is what makes the poem breathe love, and each stanza allows for more understanding as to what her mother does, how she deserved more. The sentimentality of Christmas Eve also adds a feeling of family tradition to the piece.

  1. Winter Love – Linda Gregg
    ‘I would like to decorate this silence,
    but my house grows only cleaner’

Winter Love is a short and simple poem about the quiet loneliness of winter, the ever presence of cold and our yearning for warmth and love. Gregg cuts straight to the bone with a moment of silence that we can all imagine, and many of us have experienced. 

  1. White-Eyes – Mary Oliver
    ‘In winter

    all the singing is in

         the tops of the trees’

This poem shows the birds-eye views of oncoming winter and embraces the hibernation we all go into when snow comes. The beautifully simple short lines constructed like falling snow give us the quiet feeling of nature in winter.

  1. At the Solstice – Sean O’Brien
    ‘But then the winter happens, like a secret

We’ve to keep yet never understand’

I love the way this poem manages to capture the inevitableness of winter, but also the way it somehow sneaks up on us each year. Through sharp imagery O’Brien carefully constructs an image of dancing sparrows that somehow feel as if they’re right in front of us, whilst containing in only 7 couples the mystery of winter.

  1. Snow – Louis MacNeice
    ‘Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
    World is suddener than we fancy it.’
Snow is the backdrop to this poem; although feeling wintery, the poem is really about the doubleness and confusion of everything. Mirrored in the way this poem is both about snow, fire and not at all about either MacNeice captures how big and small everything can be at once.

Elizabeth Kemball, 22 December 2020

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