Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

NORTH WINTER, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Coming of winter
Last Line: North is / nothing
Subject(s): Arctic; Winter

Coming of winter
is a beech sapling
rising silverly
in a brown field
in bramble in
thicket the raspberry
the rosemallow
all gone to rust
a silver sapling
to which in wind
and the judaskisses
of snow the starved
brown leaves cling
and cling.

In spring this mountain was a fish
with blond scales
in summer it was a crab
with a green shell
in fall it became a leopard
with a burnished coat
in winter the mountain is a bird
with lavender feathers
and a still heart.

bitter wind
the body of love.

Where two boots labored yesterday across the
snowdrifted pasture
today each boothole is an offertory of
bright seeds
bittersweet yellowbirch hemlock pine thistle
burning unconsumed.

Stronger than destiny is pain
and in the leaf
the marvelous venature is stronger
and in the year
the last morsel of pancake
of the forty-third breakfast
is stronger.

Caught in the briary stars
a lunar scrap blurred
like paper flickering in a gale
carrying away a scarcely remembered
poem of a summer night.

Twenty-two degrees below zero
and only the blade of meadow
like a snowpetal or foil of platinum
to defend the house against the glistening
mountain and the near unwinking

Morning ice on the window
opaque as beaten silver
while the poet
in his ninefootsquare hut stamps
rhythmically breathing out plume
after plume of warmth and the stove
nibbles a few frozen sticks.

In the snowy woods of morning
the new deer tracks run
cross and criss and circle among
snowapparelled spruces and gray
maples telling of revels by night
of joy and delight and happiness
beyond any power of consciousness
although the small green pellets
mean a hard diet.

The tamarack with needles lost
and a thousand curled-up twigs
like dead birdsfeet takes
the snow greedily and in snatches
to cover its misshapen nakedness.

A winter's tale is told in
rumors of snow
sneaping winds
the frazil flux of identities
tardy recognitions
the living stones.

Think not of chaste snow always
nor of crystalline coldness think
of spruce boughs like the swordblade
breasts of negresses and of the bull
mountain humped over the white soft
valley and of stags raging down
the rutting wind and of northern
passion crackling like naked trumpets
in the snow under the blazing aurora.

The song of the gray
ninepointed buck
contains much contains
many contains all
a whole north for
example the sweet
sharp whistling of
the redpolls caught
overhead in the branches
of the yellow birch
like leaves left over
from autumn and at
night the remote
chiming of stars
caught in the tines
of his quiet exaltation.

The arctic owl moved across the snowsmooth
meadow to the dark balsam without sound
without wingbeat more quiet than a fish
more effortless than the gliding seed
as if it were a white thought of love
moving moving over the pasture to home.

in a
like five

Eons gone by the sea
in its huge stress
hissed among these promontories

now stilled
in the frozen whirl and floodtide
of the snow.

Like a frozen lake the sky in the bitterest
twilight cracks and rays of a black elm
rising a spray of limbs reveal
the longdrowned lurid moon.

The frozen
brook sprawls
in sunlight
a tree of glass

Cold hunger tripped her but her years
held her downfallen in this snow hollow
this small death valley where small beaks
and talons will slowly chip her frozen
being though in the snow desert she will
not bleach and her eyes will stay soft
and beautiful a long long time in the
winter light and she will modestly wear
her genteel tatters of old flesh and fur.

Snow buntings whirling
on a snowy field
cutglass reflections
on a ceiling.

The spaniel flies with his ears
across the snow carrying a
deer's legbone in his jaws
the bone flops threejointedly
and the little hoof dances
delicately in the snow.

The window
the icicle
the gleaming moon
when the lamplight fails.

Night is a cauldron
of boiling snow
and the highway
where headlights cringe
seethes with a furious froth
and melts away.

This wind this
screaming parrot
this springing
wolf this down
fall this ab
solute extinc
tion this deton
ating godhead
this wind this.

Blizzard trampling past has left
the birches bent as in humiliation
the soft scotch pines laid down
as in subjection the beeches snapped
at the top as in a reign of terror
the balsams scarred but upright
as in the dignity of suffering and all
the woods in sorrow as if the world
meant something.

Pale dawnlight spooks the mist
and the valley glimmers and
higher behind this mountain
whitely rises a farther peak
in remote majesty a presence
silent and unknown and gone
by noon.

is said to assimilate himself to a condition
of animal grace

let him study
the forehoof of the pinto searching for grass
in the snowy pasture.

In cold
the snow
leaps and
over the
but in thaw the sullen
fingers of snow heavily
cling to each stalk and to every stone.

Tracks of the snowshoe rabbit across the snow
are a ridiculous ominous alphabet of skulls.

The brook has holes in its cover
this morning
where the black water flows
rippling menacing
under the snow

which mounds in untouched purity
except where
threaded prints of the mink
delicately deathly
stop to drink.

Snow comes
of light
flake from the sky
day breaks
in early night.

Beginning with the palest and softest lavender
arras of
old brocade
loveliest hues
snow blending
the naked
forests called
green in summer
now this
over the
this is the wintering mountain.

Heavy gloves
or better
the north silencing
savoring and saving
that lewdword

After the thaw after
the illusion cold comes
changed in aspect
a great body of death
and inertia a corpse
flung down
a whale
gray and still
and immense crushing
becomes hard and silent
night stiffens heaving
to support the weight
while the woods groan
and the soft snow
turns metallic
barren and brittle
the house creaks
under the burden in
mindless suffering
and its nails burst
out with a sound of
cracking bones
sets in afternoon
jays huddle say
nothing and

Sky like fishblood
deprecative lurid thin
evening blush on the mountain
and here
the foreground
very near
a sheen
vitrescent snowcrust and
reflected light
lurid and deprecative

Gunmetal snow icecolored sky
granitic meadow sullen noon
stunted yellowed loplimbed pine
flayed birch elm decorated
with empty nests poverty
hunger red fingers retracting
in splayed gloves dead sun
gray hair poverty poverty.

Wet fire
it turns out
is better than

Sky yellow sky
wet sky reeky
sky lax some
god's old diaper.

When some amazonian indians for whom
all experience had been degrees of heat
were given a hunk of ice to touch they said
it's not
the eskimo child that tumbled
on the other hand into the fire did not
say it was cold
brazil brazil
thy foolishness is also a kind of beauty.

The day the brook went out
was still midwinter locked
in zodiacal fastness yet
rain fell and fell in fact
so much the snow turned green
and the water in the brook
covered the ice like urine
until at one crack
the whole damned thing let go
ice and muddy water trees
stones bits of lumber snow
like a racketing express
through a local stop and then
subsided leaving the banks
dark and dirty raw and torn
with new patterns of rocks
looking unfamiliar what
a purgation it was wild
and beautiful and the result
wasn't bad either all told
for now the brook is rising
again after the long
icebound repression singing
a midwinter rebel song.

Lover of balsam lover of white pine
o crossbill crossbill
cracking unseen with of all things scissors
seeds seeds
a fidget for ears enpomped in the meadow's
silence silence

a crackling thorn aflame in the meadow's
cold cold.

n f
o e
Snow's downstrokes climb softly up the c r.

Lichen and liverwort
laurel and brome
lightened the gravamen
of old stones
a cellarhole far
in foliate woods
a dry cistern
where sweet water stood
a doorstone to nothing
that summer entwined
softly and now
drowned in the snow.

Astigmatism breaks
the crescent moon
into two images
set asymmetrically
so that they cross
in the upper third
like two scimitars
flung down at rest
on the sahara.

In freshfallen snow
marks of pad and paw
and even partridge claw
go delicately and distinct
straight as a string of beads
but marks of a heeled boot
waver shuffle wamble
ruckle the snow define
a most unsteady line

then spell it out once

death knowledge being heady
it hath not the beasts' beauty
goeth tricksy and ploddy
and usually too damn wordy
but drunken or topsyturvy
gladhanding tea'd or groovy

it arriveth
it arriveth
o you pretty lady.

Lichen is a hardy plant
hardy hardy
sustenance from the granite ledge
nouriture from the dead elm bole
icy plant hoar plant
living kin
to rime
the north plant
of death poverty and resolution.

On Lincoln's birthday the forest
bound in fifty degrees of frost
stirs tentatively with a creaking
here and there in the new strength
of the noticeably higher sun.

Four greens
the poplar trunk
the lichen on the poplar trunk
the shadow of the poplar over the snow
the vanished leaves of the poplar fluttering
all across the sky.

Under the hill a winter twilight
darkens to evening colorlessly
without sunset and yet the birches
leaping higher across the way
cry pink cry lavender cry saffron
the instant the darkness freezes them.

When conditions of frost and
moisture are just right
the air is filled
with thousands and thousands
of points of light
like the fireflies come back
only tinier and much more brilliant
as if the fireflies
had ghosts
to haunt a february night.

Three sixteen seventy-nine
five hundred
ten thousand a million
a milliard
a snowsquall
aged winter's
tantrum in the sun.

Small things
hardest to believe
redpoll snatching
drops from an icicle.

Layer upon layer
late winter snow
a dobos torte
compact crusts and fillings
in a cut snowbank counting
the rings of all winter's
storms and thaws
like a tree grown
in one season

to which level
a boot will sink
on the resistance and
of each stratum

woe to him
who steps where
sun blared hotly
in january
he will go in floundering go in
to his chicken neck
woe woe.

In late winter cold nights
and warm days bring
the untimely harvests
bright pails and smoke
in the sugarbush
and the snow known as
cornsnow on the mountain
whining under the skis like
scratchfeed plunging in the chute.

The eye of
the hut
sheds tears
from the eye of
the hut
glass tears fall

the tears of
the hut
shatter and
musically away
the hut musically
is weeping

from the eye of
the hut
glass tears fall and
musically all day.

Where the snow bank leans
let april waken
dishevelment rise from covert
crocus and violet rise
Persephone lift hand
to first light
lashes moist from lethe
dewpetaled diaphane
let the dogtooth
fasten in bractlet jaws
sop of the yellow blossom
and let
grasses rise there
unbinding anemone
arbutus and lethargy
and the dark sward of dreams
where the snowbank leans.

One day music
everywhere in the woods
water water
dripping from fir boughs
spilling from ledges
as when a woman sleeping
speaks a strange word
or a name
so winterfolk
the chickadees give over
harshness for a kind of
and the poet appears
emerges brushing the
mist from his shoulders
amused and yawning
tasting the snowwater
crumbling a bit of tanbark
in his teeth
water water
the pools and freshets
earth glistening
releasing the ways of
words of
earth long frozen.

. . . and sun the blear sun straggled forever
on the horizon an unvarying scrutiny around
around as they limped and stumbled holding
each other against the wind over the ice
that crumbled under them in the tremors of
unseen currents and the compass plunging
and rearing the sun the livid sun smeared
in the wind watching watching never
relenting till exhaustion inundated them
yet they slept with their eyes open clinging
together just as they walked often with
their eyes shut hand in hand and fell
at last tripped on their destination
their sextant snagged their compass wild
with incomprehension and they looked
over the sides of the world The sun
the bloated sun ever on the horizon ballooning
and they shuddered and turned to each other
and then dropped down their plumbline
under them and payed out its knots
hand over hand to the end to fifteen hundred
fathoms and felt the plummet still swinging in
the void . . .

. . . nothing they were nothing
afloat on nothing frozen by the winds of
nothing under the meaningless glare of nothing's
eye there where the compass points down
there where the needle turns in . . .

. . . why
had they come so far what had led them
drawn them into the remoteness and the
hostility of north what did north mean
and why why was one of them black and
the other white these were the points in
doubt There in confrontation they gave over
the last dissemblings and the last nostalgias
nothing against nothing yet more than that
their infinitesimal nothing against the
nothing of all the nothing of the real and in
this giddiness they became at last
the objectivists They drew back not in
fear for fear had consumed itself
but as the painter retreats from his canvas
and so they saved themselves now seeing
how this was the only virtue the withdrawing
mind that steadies before reality and they
turned slowly together through the whole
arc of absurdity with outstretched hands
bestowing cold benediction on the north
and then sank down Another confrontation
murdered them as they peered in each other's
eyes . . .

. . . and saw nothing nothing Oh
in the low guttural inner voice they proclaimed
the misery and destitution of nothing . . .

. . . and saw nothing except yes this is the
object nothing except the other's returning
gaze which each knew also saw


in this likeness this scrap of likeness that
contained their likelihood they arose once
more calmly the tall twin centers
of compassion in the wide field of cold and
horror And the sun the huge sun circled
around them . . .

. . . they came back trudging
in love and hardship while the sun
took a month to set cowering lidless on the
extremity of the ice floe where they
crouched Aurora flickered and mounted
pale brightening caparisons of yellow
and green falling fluttering swaying
in such majestic movements that that
elemental silence pealed with trumpets
and they truly listened with their eyes Did
they then see with their ears the changing
counterpoints of wind and snow the
purity of whiteness modulating everywhere
in dunes and fastnesses and cascades
Reality gladdened them and all the more
when the astonished walrus fell off his seat
backwards whopping the sea and they smote
their knees and wallowed in the snow . . .

. . . north is a horror from which a horror grows
a purity and fervor to which in opposition
an equal purity and fervor supervene north
is the latitude of the near remote lying
beyond hope and beyond despair lying in destination
where the compass points down the needle turns in
where the last breath of meaning is borne away
on the cold wind north is the meaninglessness
of beauty uncaused in the complete object
auroral flickerings on the eternal snows
the eye swimming in the mind's deluge
the blue mountain floating on emptiness
the shadow of the white bear gliding underfoot
north is the vacancy that flowers in a
glance wakening compassion and mercy and
lovingkindness the beautiful dew
of the sea rosmarine the call crying in silence
so distant so small and meeting
itself in its own silence forever north is
north is the aurora north is
deliverance emancipation . . .

. . . north is
nothing . . .

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

Discover our Poem Explanations and Poet Analyses!

Other Poems of Interest...

Home: PoetryExplorer.net