What I don't like about where I live is that snow never falls. I saw a glass ball that has a snowman in it. You shake the globe and "snow" falls. I bought it. I put it in my bedroom. I get up in the morning and shake the globe and watch snow drift and swirl onto the rim of the snowman's black top hat. I miss snow. I go to my bookshelves and search -- in poems, novels, essays, short stories -- for snowfalls, snowstorms, blizzards, icicles, sleigh rides, ice-skating.The poem that we learned in school is Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."
Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
It is the poem that ends with that grim quatrain to which teachers resorted to introduce us to the enigmatic element in poetry. The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The teacher always asked, "What do you suppose the poet intended with his 'promises to keep?'" I didn't care then, and don't now, what Frost intended. I am satisfied to say out loud: "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." Those seven words start snow sifting through cold air, sticking on bare black boughs.Frost's poem "The Onset," less well known, offers a more closely observed snow that
...lets down as white
As may be in dark woods, and with a song
It shall not make again all winter long
Of hissing on the yet uncovered ground. Easily as wonderful a Frost snow poem is "Dust of Snow," whose first quatrain so quickly establishes its presence that words vanish and nothing remains but...
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree.
Basho's On Love and Barley contains three haiku, the first of which "works" in much of the way of the Frost four lines -- the words disappear, the world to which the words point, remains.
Snowy morning --
Come, let's go
till we're buried.
forgets the snow. This bit of snow writing is not a poem, but it's written by a poet. Why we construe from his name an adjective that describes its object as "heroic -- or, 'mock 'heroic -- and romantic" comes clear once more when we read what Lord Byron, on January 5, 1821, wrote in his journal:
Rose late -- dull and drooping -- the weather dripping and dense. Snow on the ground, and sirocco above in the sky, like yesterday. Roads up to the horse's belly, so that riding (at least for pleasure) is not very feasible. Read the conclusion, for the fiftieth time (I have read all W. Scott's novels at least fifty times), of the third series of Tales of My Landlord-- grand work -- Scotch.
Clock strikes -- going out to make love. Somewhat perilous, but not disagreeable.
And, remember this, from T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"?
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow,
Wallace Stevens's "The Snow Man" stalks you for years, and finally one day hits you in the heart. Were I going to give the poem a title based upon the effect it has, I'd title it "Exit Wound."
One must have a mind of
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the Pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
None of these is my favorite snow poem (although the Stevens comes close). That is reserved for Robert Penn Warren's "Function of Blizzard." Back when I lived where snow fell every winter, a friend and I, on the occasion of the year's first snow, would recite this poem. We would take the book with us, outside, and stand on the street corner under lamplight and read the poem out loud together. Last week, standing at his window he saw that snow was falling on the mountains. He called me and read:
God's goose, neck neatly wrung, is being plucked.
And night is blacker for the plethora
Of white feathers except when, in an air-tower beam,
Black feathers turn white as snow. Which is what they are. And in the blind trajectory travelers scream toward silence.
Black ruins of arson in the Bronx are whitely
Redeemed. Poverty does not necessarily
Mean unhappiness. Can't you hear the creak of bed-slats
Or ghostly echo of childish laughter?
Bless Needle plunging into pinched vein.
Bless coverings-over, forgettings.
Bless snow, and chains beating undersides of fenders.
Bless insane sirens of the Fire Department
And Christmas whirl of alarm lights. Bless even
Three infants locked in a tenement of Harlem.
God's bosom is broad. Snow soon will cover the anguished ruin.
Bless snow! Bless God, Who must work under the hand of
Fate, who has no name. God does the best
He can, and sometimes lets snow whiten the world
As a promise -- as now of mystic comfort to
The old physicist, a Jew, faith long since dead, who is getting
High-lonesome drunk by the frosted window of
The Oak Room bar in the Plaza. And bless me, even
With no glass in my hand, and far from New York, as I rise
From bed, feet bare, heart freezing, to stare out at
The whitening fields and forest, and wonder what
Item of the past I'd most like God to let