Monday, January 20, 2014

Winter, Woeful and Wonderful

by Linore Rose Burkard

There are days when winter is wonderful. White. Pristine. Silent and still, letting one's soul rest. Winter, however, can be a challenge. January and February can drag on, offering little but an endless litany of dreary weather.  The days are short, the sunlight weak (unless one is on the road driving when it is suddenly blindingly bright)  and snow, fog, or ice seem to cloud our minds as well as our walkways.  

Perhaps writers and poets are more sensitive to the vagaries of the seasons than most, but I love the way they capture them. The following poems and snippets, taken from the pages of history, show winter in its breadth of both woe and wonder. 
Snow Creek, Wisconsin
No one captures the bleakness better, I think, than Emily Dickinson, in the following: 

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

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us —
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are —

None may teach it — Any —
’Tis the Seal Despair —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air —

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

Or, from Scottish poet Robert Burns:

The wintry west extends his blast,
  And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
  The blinding sleet and snaw:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
  And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
  And pass the heartless day.

...Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
  These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest; they must be best,
  Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want—O do Thou grant
  This one request of mine!—
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
  Assist me to resign.

from,Winter: A Dirge, 1781
And many of us do just that: Resign ourselves to enduring winter blasts. However, in contrast to heartless winds and icy walks, the following vignettes show winter at its best.

    Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours,
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze,
And cups o’erflow with wine;
Let well-tuned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love,
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.  

Thomas Campion, from, Now Winter Nights Enlarge, 1617
Or, this almost playful piece, by Robert Louis Stevenson:

   Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

Winter-Time, from, A Child's Garden of Verses, 1885  
What I love most about winter in many older poems are the references to home and hearth fires. In my regency Christmas book, I dedicated a whole section to poetry and found more snippets of happy scenes of families gathered 'round the hearth than I could possibly put into one book. 
I leave you with a few, beginning with this from Felicia Hemans, a foremost female poet from Regency England, though little known today:  
 By the gathering round the winter hearth,
When twilight call'd unto household mirth;
By the fairy tale or the legend old
In that ring of happy faces told;
By the quiet hour when hearts unite
In the parting prayer and the kind "Good-night;"
By the smiling eye and the loving tone,
Over thy life has the spell been thrown.
And bless that gift!–it hath gentle might,
A guardian power and a guiding light.

 From, The Spells of Home

Another, also from Mrs. Hemans, idealized, perhaps, but charming: 

The merry Homes of England!
Around their hearths by night,
What gladsome looks of household love
Meet in the ruddy light!
There woman's voice flows forth in song,
Or childhood's tale is told,
Or lips move tunefully along
Some glorious page of old.  (1828)

May you enjoy your own hearth-fires, or other cozy spot to read, relax and renew your soul during the slower months of winter.

Linore Rose Burkard is the creator of "Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul." Her characters take you back to Regency England (circa 1811 - 1820). Fans of classic romance, such as Pride & Prejudice  or Emma, will adore the adventurous heroines and heroes in Linore's historical novels. 


  1. I love poems and quotes. Thank you for sharing these beautiful words.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  2. I can't imagine so much snow. The most I've ever seen at one time is about 18 inches--and that's only been twice in my lifetime. Beautiful pictures!

  3. You should see my backyard right now! We woke up "to a world of white," (as the Amy Grant song goes). It's beautiful and peaceful--unless you have to venture out. I am thankful for "stay at home" snowy days!