Sunday, 24 December 2017

Edward Thomas: Snow


Here in Britain, it looks unlikely that we will be greeted tomorrow morning by the realization of Bing Crosby's dream of a white Christmas, just like the ones very few of us have ever known.  But there has been snow in the Calder Valley over the last few weeks, and it has been good to wander through it across the moors and along the iced-up streams and hillsides, even if only for a few days.


I thought I would sign off for 2017 with words from a finer poet than I will ever be. Edward Thomas' Snow draws together the traditional European riddle of the snow and sun, whose beginning might be loosely translated White bird featherless / Flew from Paradis, and the words of English poet John Clare, whose Shepherd's Calendar includes the following observation:

And some to view the winter weathers
Climb up the window seat wi glee
Likening the snow to falling feathers
In fancy's infant extacy

 Edna O'Brien has written of how, in Thomas' poem, oxymorons ('gloom of whiteness' , 'dusky brightness') and elegiac cadences darken the metaphor, and it is worth remembering that the poem was written when Thomas was serving on the front line during the First World War, during which conflict he would eventually lose his life, killed in action a century ago this year.


In the gloom of whiteness,
In the great silence of snow,
A child was saying, "Oh,
They have killed a white bird up there on her nest,
The down is fluttering from her breast."
And still it fell through that dusky brightness
On the child crying for the bird of the snow.

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