Paul Andersen: The poetry of a snowy winter day
“Descent in a Snow Storm”
He clicks his boxy boots into bindings/And glides off down the steepening hill./The snow is white, the wind is blinding/His tracks they soon with powder fill.
Behind him lingers in his wake/A pluming cloud of cold, white smoke./The airborne crystals rainbows make/In colors Old Man Winter spoke.
Pulled down in fast descent and bitter/He feels the brush and breath of frost./As snowflakes patter down like litter/The refuse angels carelessly tossed.
The mountain shrugs; it’s nothing more/Than a ballroom for this bright romance./Gravity his partner; nature their score/He soars in this his alpine dance.
Sipping tea, reading Robert Frost, listening to the crackling of the wood-burning stove, watching snow drift across the Fryingpan Valley — these are the poetic influences of a snowy winter day.
I’m not giving up my day job, but I’m testing the waters of poetry just for the fun of it and to see if I can, as a writer, grasp the poetic mindset where words speak simple truths that bring action and settings to life.
Here’s how a critic described the artful musings of Robert Frost: “He accepts the world’s contradictions without being crushed by them.” Frost, he said, is a moralist. But Frost described himself as a realist.
“There are two types of realist,” Frost wrote. “There is the one who offers a good deal of dirt with his potato to show that it is a real potato. And there is the one who is satisfied with the potato brushed clean. I am inclined to be the second kind. To me, the thing that art does for life is to clean it, to strip it to form.”
Stripping to form describes Michelangelo’s poetic, if you will, uncovering of form within a block of marble. A good poem is described as the combination of the strange and the familiar, delivering the power of surprise. Imagine the sculptor’s surprise at freeing David from his marble tomb.
James Joyce, who conveyed the power of poetry in prose, was able, as one critic suggested, “to respond to life even at its most terrible with the intrigued, calculating imperviousness of an artist for whom nothing real is beyond his purview.”
Virginia Woolf reflected: “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”
Temporal, impervious words convey innate truths that may vanish altogether into the archives of the dead and gone. Poetry, writes Woolf, depends on intellectual freedom, which depends on material necessities, like a room of one’s own in which to work.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote that he “hurried through life the plaything of his vices. “The dramas he penned with quill and ink speak to sensual infatuations. His verses conjure beauty: “A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring, which I enjoy with my whole heart. I am alone…”
Alone, I encounter a deer in the woods behind my home.
“Doe in the Woods”
Leaning, lunging in no hurry, slowly walks the silent deer./On pointed hooves she signals worry, her ears are perked each sound to hear./Disinterest I am pretending while watching every subtle motion,/Standing still and not offending, at least that is my human notion.
Watch I do, spying through a fallen tree lying in the woods/Its branches bare, its age surpassing, eliciting timeless moods./Just she and I, the forest beckons, both seekers of quiet solitude./I watch her as she stops and reckons on our communal interlude.
Suddenly, she stops while harking, her pointed ears swivel round./She hears the neighbor dog barking, a toothy cur that makes the sound./And as the dog runs with yearning, seen as a flash between the trees,/The wary doe coils while turning and, with pounding hooves, she bounding flees.
“True poetry,” wrote Carlyle, “is always the quintessence of general mental riches, the purified result of strong thought and conception, and of refined as well as powerful emotion.”
This is something to cultivate while sipping tea with Robert Frost on a snowy winter day.
Paul Andersen is in a poetic mood. His column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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