Why Are Poems About Winter So Grim?

I like to peruse the websites of The Academy of American Poets & The Poetry Foundation on a semi-regular basis. A lot of the times I just click on random links and read whatever pops up.  Sometimes these are familiar poems but often I stumble upon something new.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the impending winter season. Almost all of the leaves are off the trees, Thanksgiving has come and gone and the squirrels are burying their bounty in my backyard, so when I looked at the above mentioned websites this morning, I clicked on poems about winter. After reading several older and contemporary poems, I came to an important realization: winter poems are depressing. Now I know that symbolically speaking at its best winter is associated with sleep/hibernation and at its worst it is about death/decay. Pair these themes with Season Affective Disorder (SAD) and well, I can see why the poets have trouble working up any enthusiasm. I thought if maybe I narrowed my search to “Christmas” or “holiday,” things might perk up. Realization #2, poet’s have a harder time with Christmas than they do with winter in general. The reasons for this seem obvious and understandable, to me at least. Christmas is the land of cliche and materialism. In a sea of Hallmark cards, what self respecting “poet” is going to try and pen a few verses about the joy of evergreen trees or hanging Christmas lights or basting a turkey? Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. But write a poem about it? No way in hell.

Anyway, I did discover a few winter poems I really liked:

Winter Twilight 

On a clear winter's evening
The crescent moon

And the round squirrels' nest
In the bare oak

Are equal planets.
 
~Anne Porter 
 

Winter Trees
 

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

~William Carlos Williams

Toward the Winter Solstice

Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
And call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
We all are conscious of the time of year;
We all enjoy its colorful displays
And keep some festival that mitigates
The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake;
The desert lifts a full moon from the east
And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
And valets at chic restaurants will soon
Be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
The fan palms scattered all across town stand
More calmly prominent, and this place seems
A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
And ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.
 
~Timothy Steele 

Snowflakes (1st stanza)

Out of the bosom of the Air,
      Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
      Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
            Silent, and soft, and slow
            Descends the snow. 
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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