Op/Ed

Poet’s Corner: A song for winter

Winter’s Delicate Solitude
 
This is the closing-in time of year:
The weary earth rests, leans back and retires;
Pine-quilted hills guard the brink of the world,
Horizons now strangely attainable.
The sky yawns, heavy-lidded and colored
With sleep, and lowers on the lazy creek.
As wind chimes silence their icy tingle,
The streets gather closer; the village curls,
Like a mouse, into itself to preserve
A vital warmth in a long night so still
With cold, so brittle, an unkind word or
A wayward careless thought could shatter it.
— By Matthew McDonough
 
Originally from Rhode Island, Matthew McDonough has lived most of his life in Vermont. He is keenly interested in literature, history and philosophy and teaches English at Rutland High School.
————————————
I love the music of this poem by Matthew McDonough — the play of ice and wind chimes, of sleep over the lazy creek, and the weary earth at rest. I like how the poem acknowledges the icy brittleness that winter brings, but doesn’t condemn it or push it away. How it holds close the cold, yet still feels the warmth. The poem knows winter is a valuable time of year, this “closing-in” time, where we, like earth, are meant to rest a little, to come inside to reflect and renew, while outside the pine-quilted hills hold and protect us.
The poem’s music is abundant — from the “icy tingle” and chimes, to the near rhymes and assonance of “sleep” and “creek.” There are many hard consonants as in “brink” and “curl” and “cold,” but just as many soft consonant sounds that together create a strange kind of harmony and a whole new music, one that seems able to hold everything, at least everything of winter.
I feel pulled into the folk imagery of the village curling like a mouse into itself. We all know those lovely wintery paintings of New England villages. We even live in them. I feel the contrast between the outer snow and ice and the imagined warm houses, soup kitchens, and churches that offer needed heat and nourishment. And while I appreciate the painterly images for what they are, after a few readings of the poem, the village and winter start to take on a new layer of meaning.
While the poet may not have had anything like this in mind, for me, the “long night” of winter begins to feel like a fragile place full of dark uncertainty, like our country right now; it feels as if any unkind utterance — or even thought, as the poet suggests — truly could shatter it. There is a fragility in winter, one that we see in icicles hanging precariously from eaves, in the brittleness of tree branches easily snapped, and in forests exposed with no foliage to protect them. And we feel it ourselves in the cold that chills our bones, in bouts of isolation, and in the vulnerability that winter can leave us with.
But still, there is that inner warmth and depth within each of us, as in the village that “curls, like a mouse, into itself to preserve a vital warmth.” The heart is still there where we left it, waiting for us to return, to deepen into it with gentleness and care so we may emerge again, when ready, to care again for the world as we have for ourselves.
In just these first few weeks of 2020, I have had several unexpected exchanges with friends and strangers, where we shared experiences of waking into the New Year feeling oddly optimistic and hopeful. Not because of anything specific that happened, but more from a feeling that drifted over us. Could it be there is indeed a shift happening, or about to? One that could turn our collective winter toward an early spring? Or at least a truly vibrant one, reflective of a winter well spent.
While most of my reflections here have been on the poems’ other lines, my eye and mind keep going back to the earlier line “horizons now strangely attainable,” which feels more imminently relevant and resonant. I’ve had the experience hiking in winter, where the land’s terrain is so bare you can see every contour, every vale and ravine, every precipice. You feel like you can make your way through after all. And maybe it’s not just about getting through, but about really getting somewhere, perhaps even to that distant horizon that now feels strangely, unexpectedly attainable.
————————————
Susan Jefts is from Ripton, Vt., and the Adirondacks of New York. She publishes her work in journals both nationally and locally, and runs workshops using poetry as a means for exploring our connections to ourselves and the natural world. Learn more about her workshops at ManyRiversLifeGuidance.com.

Share this story:

More News
Op/Ed

Editorial: ‘Perfect storm’ drives school taxes, but what can be done?

This Town Meeting, passing school budgets will be no sure thing. That’s largely because ta … (read more)

Op/Ed

Legislative Review: Clarifying the intent of the wildlife bill

Because there is quite a bit of misinformation circulating about this bill, I am urging yo … (read more)

Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Gaye’s musical message endures

Recently, I got the urge to listen to Marvin Gaye’s album “What’s Going On?” I’m fortunate … (read more)

Share this story: