Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poems: Claude McKay, Emily Dickinson, Issa + Snow Poems

In expectation of the snowmageddon to come, I got to thinking about poems about snow or in which snow, snowfalls, snowflakes, snowstorms, and the like, play a key role, as a central image, as a metaphor or simile, to serve as frame, and so on, and so here's a poem that's probably not read or discussed that often, in double sonnet form, by Claude McKay (1890-1948), "The Snow Fairy," from his 1922 collection, Harlem Shadows. The snow here both serves as a metaphor for loss, despite its beauty, and also sets the stage for melancholy; the lyric voice is reminiscing about a lover who, as temporarily as those "snow fairies," magically brought a bit of "summer" along, joining the lyric speaker in his bed, before departing at dawn, evanescent as snow (or any season, winter or summer) itself. McKay writes many poems like these, though I don't think he's known for them, but they are treasures nevertheless. And so:

The Snow Fairy


Throughout the afternoon I watched them there,
Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky,
Whirling fantastic in the misty air,
Contending fierce for space supremacy.
And they flew down a mightier force at night,
As though in heaven there was revolt and riot,
And they, frail things had taken panic flight
Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet.
I went to bed and rose at early dawn
To see them huddled together in a heap,
Each merged into the other upon the lawn,
Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep.
The sun shone brightly on them half the day,
By night they stealthily had stol'n away.


And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you
Who came to me upon a winter's night,
When snow-sprites round my attic window flew,
Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light.
My heart was like the weather when you came,
The wanton winds were blowing loud and long;
But you, with joy and passion all aflame,
You danced and sang a lilting summer song.
I made room for you in my little bed,
Took covers from the closet fresh and warm,
A downful pillow for your scented head,
And lay down with you resting in my arm.
You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day,
The lonely actor of a dreamy play.

Copyright © Claude McKay, 2009. All rights reserved.

That got me thinking about other poems in which snow, winter, and so forth figure centrally. Of course I have already posted Wallace Stevens's sublime "The Snow Man" on this blog (back in April 2007). What are some others? I got to thinking, and tweeted the following, creating (I gather) a new hashtag, #snowpoems, in the process. I even posted a haiku to get things going.

White christmas dreams, fears
of the snowflakes that will come
wanting to remain

When in doubt, haiku. So far, though, solo. (Though Nic P. did retweet the haiku--thanks Nic!) If you're on Twitter, add to the list, please!

McKay's poem made me recall one of Emily Dickinson's (1830-1886) gems, Poem 1669, "In snow thou comest," with its drumtight use of metaphor, allusion, prosody, music. The figure addressed here is winter itself, as a means for talking about life:

In snow thou comest --
Thou shalt go with the resuming ground,
The sweet derision of the crow,
And Glee's advancing sound.

In fear thou comest --
Thou shalt go at such a gait of joy
That man anew embark to live
Upon the depth of thee.

Here's another, by the great (Kobayashi) Issa [小林一茶](1763-1828), which uses a sign of winter's (possibly temporary) departure, metonymically, as a springboard to depict life and its possibilities:

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.
So what are some other "snow" poems? Among the most famous in American literature, of course, is:

Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"


Guillaume Apollinaire, "La blanche neige"
Francisco X. Alarcón, "Iguanas in the Snow"
A.R. Ammons, "I Come In From the Snowy World"
John Ashbery, "What Is Poetry?"
Emily Dickinson, "Snow flakes"
Rita Dove, "The Snow King"
Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Snow-Storm"
Anne Hébert, "La neige"
Nizam Hikmet, "It snows in the night"
Denise Levertov, "Praise Wet Snow Falling Early"
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "The Snow Storm"
Gabriela Mistral, "Mientras baja la nieve"
Eugenio Montale, "Here is the sign"
Quincy Troupe, "Snow and Ice"
Walt Whitman, "To a Locomotive in Winter"

What are some that come to your mind? Let me know and I'll add them to the list.

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