Winter Wonderland (In Lame-O Verse)

12 Dec

The Muppets perenially ask why there are so many songs about rainbows.  Now, I cannot answer the burning rainbow question, but I can tell you exactly why there are so many poems about winter weather:

They are so fun to write!

It’s been crisp and foggy and cold for the last couple weeks and all I want to do is bundle up glamorously in turtlenecks and well-fitting wool-mix slacks and tweed sport coats and supple leather boots and write poetry about how crisp and foggy and cold it is and how the moon is large and heaving and how the sky opens demurely to drop a few wet handkerchiefs, instantly picked up by the gentlemanly wind, who tips his hat and bows deeply, kicking bright and crinkling leaves with his heels.

Oh man, putting together all those Ss and Ks and Ps and Ts and Bs that make up a hearty winter poem turns into the kind of jigsaw stew a girl wants to sink her teeth into.  Oh yes, describing all the dreary, bleak climatalogical phenomena in new, personified ways warms a heart and sends avid blood into chilled fingertips.

But not everything is hot chocolate and roasted pecans. Winter poetry, alarmingly often, is so boring to read.  And depressing, too, now that I think of it.

Take Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” (Please! ba dum bum!):

                          The land’s sharp features seemed to be
                                 The Century’s corpse outleant,
                          His crypt the cloudy canopy,
                                 The wind his death-lament.
                         The ancient pulse of germ and birth
                                Was shrunken hard and dry,
                         And every spirit upon earth
                                 Seemed fervourless as I.

That makes me want to crawl into bed and never come out.  I’ll concede the cleverness of comparing the land to a corpse  and the wind that corpse’s mourners and the craftsmanship of all the alliteration and the catholicity of the bland feelings expressed in the last two lines above.

But there’s that problem again: the catholicity of the bland feelings expressed in the last two lines above.  You’re right, Thomas Hardy.  I am totally fervourless; I think I’ll grab a cup of tea and cuddle up on the couch and see if I can convince anybody to watch Damages with me, except I don’t even have fervour enough to live-blog it, so I’ll probably end up watching CI instead.  Thanks a lot, Thomas Hardy.

We can usually count on Emily Dickinson for something peppy, or at least surprising.  But not in the winter time:

                         There’s a certain Slant of light,
                         Winter Afternoons – 
                         That oppresses, like the Heft
                         Of Cathedral Tunes –

Ok, Emily Dickinson, that’s an interesting comparision of light and oppression; Cathedral tunes as something positive but nevertheless overbearing.

                         When it comes, the Landscape listens – 
                         Shadows – hold their breath – 
                         When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
                         On the look of Death – 

Ok, and the last stanza accurately portrays how wearying it is after that slant of light has disappeared.  Sure, the personification of shadows and landscape as child-like strikes a chord.  But it’s just not as punchy as other Dickinson. 

It lacks the imagery and heart of “I heard a Fly buzz” and the seething anger and pent-up energy of “My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun” and the languid eroticism of “Wild nights — Wild nights!”  It’s got some good comparison and personification, but there’s no fun in it–no fun wordplay, no fun onomatopoeia–just some panting, rather half-hearted alliteration and an I’m-Dickinson-so-I’d-better-mention-death ending.  Even her Dickinsonian dashes–usually so haltingly feminine and airy–seem forced and irritating.  And what, no slant rhymes to throw everyone off-kilter?  Lame!

I know I’m just working myself into a lather.  It’s not that offensive of a poem.  It’s just boring, especially for Dickinson.  And it’s not fun winter.  It’s bleak and yawn-inducing winter.

The sad truth is that Robert Frost, vanilla New England poet of vanilla New England poets, is the only one who can capture any kind of cold but agile and active spirit of winter.

I hate to be cliché, but “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a great winter poem.  The imagery is sparse but evocative, and an aura of mystery pervades it so evenly that a reader is left with a thousand questions about what the narrator’s up to in the woods.  All the while, the snow’s snowing bleakly and the jingle bells are jingling ominously, and the woods are lovely, dark, and deep, whatever that means. 

But I’ve been digressing for several paragraphs.  My original point:  Winter poetry is super fun to write–but dull to read.  And I don’t know why that is.  At base, it’s probably some selfish thing:  I don’t care about how other people feel in the winter, but I want to get my own winter thoughts out?

No, I don’t think so.  I also like Robert Frost’s “Birches.”   Maybe I just don’t like depressing poetry that is too rhymey or poetry that just using winter as an excuse to  talk about something else.

Maybe I’m just so provincial that I think this is the shiningest example of what I want out of (other people’s) winter poetry.

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