Poetry Finds Beauty in Winter

Winter comes and we think of how to survive the weather. We also plan on how to avoid or participate in that relentless holiday season. To avoid considering such dilemmas, I found poetry that exalts in the beauty of winter: the delicate wonder of snow on trees and the untapped beauty of giving during the winter holidays by the brilliant poet Alberto Rios. Winter is more than hibernation and survival, it is the story of discovering and sharing the cold interior regions of ourselves.

“When the Year Grows Old” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I cannot but remember

When the year grows old—
October—November—
How she disliked the cold!

She used to watch the swallows

Go down across the sky,
And turn from the window
With a little sharp sigh.

And often when the brown leaves
Were brittle on the ground,
And the wind in the chimney
Made a melancholy sound,

Oh, beautiful at nightfall
The soft spitting snow!
And beautiful the bare boughs
Rubbing to and fro!

But the roaring of the fire,

And the warmth of fur,
And the boiling of the kettle
Were beautiful to her!

I cannot but remember
When the year grows old—
October—November—
How she disliked the cold!

“When Giving is All We Have” by Alberto Rios

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

“[little tree]” by E.E. Cummings

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold.
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel! Noel!”

“Lines for Winter” by Mark Strand

for Ros Krauss

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the crackling white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going.
And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

“November for Beginners” by Rita Dove

Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give…

“February Evening in New York,” by Denise Levertov

As the stores close, a winter light
opens air to iris blue,
glint of frost through the smoke
grains of mica, salt of the sidewalk.
As the buildings close, released autonomous
feet pattern the streets
in hurry and stroll; balloon heads
drift and dive above them; the bodies aren’t really there.
To the multiple disordered tones
of gears changing, a dance
to the compass points, out, four-way river.
Prospect of sky
wedged into avenues, left at the ends of streets,
west sky, east sky: more life tonight! A range
of open time at winter’s outskirts.

“Deer Dancer” by Joy Harjo

Nearly everyone had left that bar in the middle of winter except the
hardcore. It was the coldest night of the year, every place shut down, but
not us. Of course we noticed when she came in. We were Indian ruins. She
was the end of beauty. No one knew her, the stranger whose tribe we
recognized, her family related to deer, if that’s what she was, a people
accustomed to hearing songs in pine trees, and making them hearts.

The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits
blew deer magic. Henry jack, who could not survive a sober day, thought she
was Buffalo Calf Woman come back, passed out, his head by the toilet. All
night he dreamed a dream he could not say. The next day he borrowed
money, went home, and sent back the money I lent. Now that’s a miracle.
Some people see vision in a burned tortilla, some in the face of a woman.

What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?

That’s what I’d like to know, what are we all doing in a place like this?

She was the myth slipped down through dreamtime. The promise of feast
we all knew was coming. The deer who crossed through knots of a curse to
find us. She was no slouch, and neither were we, watching.

The music ended. And so does the story. I wasn’t there. But I imagine her
like this, not a stained red dress with tape on her heels but the deer who
entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a
blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left.