Friday, December 14, 2007

Snow drifting.

We're supposed to get more snow this evening. The possibility of snow holds the promise (threat?) of large drifts and sledding hills, of snowmen, and hot chocolate with marshmallow fluff, of frozen mittens and icicles large enough to be lightsabers. When I was a kid, my mom and I would put on our snow pants and moon boots and make snow angels in the yard. We'd spend 20 minutes suiting up for 5 minutes of snow fun before we got too cold and had to go back inside, where cocoa and candymaking took over.

The poems below are, of course, about snow.
Not Only the Eskimos by Lisel Muller

We have only one noun
but as many different kinds:

the grainy snow of the Puritans
and snow of soft, fat flakes,

guerrilla snow, which comes in the night
and changes the world by morning,

rabbinical snow, a permanent skullcap
on the highest mountains,

snow that blows in like the Lone Ranger,
riding hard from out of the West,

surreal snow in the Dakotas,
when you can't find your house, your street,
though you are not in a dream
or a science-fiction movie,

snow that tastes good to the sun
when it licks black tree limbs,
leaving us only one white stripe,
a replica of a skunk,

unbelievable snows:
the blizzard that strikes on the tenth of April,
the false snow before Indian summer,
the Big Snow on Mozart's birthday,
when Chicago became the Elysian Fields
and strangers spoke to each other,

paper snow, cut and taped,
to the inside of grade-school windows,

in an old tale, the snow
that covers a nest of strawberries,
small hearts, ripe and sweet,
the special snow that goes with Christmas,
whether it falls or not,

the Russian snow we remember
along with the warmth and smell of furs,
though we have never traveled
to Russia or worn furs,

Villon's snows of yesteryear,
lost with ladies gone out like matches,
the snow in Joyce's "The Dead,"
the silent, secret snow
in a story by Conrad Aiken,
which is the snow of first love,

the snowfall between the child
and the spacewoman on TV,

snow as idea of whiteness,
as in snowdrop, snow goose, snowball bush,

the snow that puts stars in your hair,
and your hair, which has turned to snow,

the snow Elinor Wylie walked in
in velvet shoes,

the snow before her footprints
and the snow after,

the snow in the back of our heads,
whiter than white, which has to do
with childhood again each year.

That's another thing about great literature - oftentimes, it's all about references to other great literature and literary players. Much of the time, I'm not familiar with a particular reference, so I have to go look it up. Usually, those works reference other works, which reference still others, so trying to read one poem or story turns into a huge spider web of poems and stories and biographies that can take a lifetime to devour. Let's take the above poem as an example. References abound:

How many words do Eskimo's have for snow, anyway?

Puritans, anyone?

What's that rabbinical reference?

What about the Lone Ranger?

Indian summer? Mozart? Elysian Fields?

Make your own paper snowflakes.

"Whoever heard of strawberries ripening in the snow?"

We all dream of a White Christmas.

It snows a lot in Russia.

Where are the snows of yesteryear? By the way, the references in Villon's poem would take two days to trudge through.

Here's the full text of The Dead by James Joyce. Good luck.

In 1971, Orson Wells narrated an episode of the Twilight Zone follow-up series, Night Gallery, based on the short story, "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" by Conrad Aiken. Via YouTube, part one and part two. Well worth the watch.

Before the days of HDTV, we saw this much of the time.

Snowdrop. Snow goose. Snowball bush.

And finally:
Velvet Shoes by Elinor Wylie

Let us walk in the white snow
In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
At a tranquil pace,
Under veils of white lace.
I shall go shod in silk,
And you in wool,
White as white cow's milk,
More beautiful
Than the breast of a gull.
We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.
We shall walk in velvet shoes:
Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
On white silence below.
We shall walk in the snow.

Whew! One of my former English professors told our class that as an English major, we'd have a much better time with the entirety of popular culture, because we'd get more of the references. For the most part, he was right. However, I hate it when I don't get a reference, and am nearly maniacal in my quest for answers. Needless to say, I don't have many other hobbies. That said, I love this one.

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