FARMINGTON, Maine — So, we left springtime behind — Northern Virginia’s 70-degree weather and cherry trees in their full glory — to drive to Maine, where weather lets you know who’s boss.
Quicker than you can say “Polar Vortex,” or “Bomb Cyclone” or whatever liberals conjure up as scary proof of climate change, we were back into serious winter. I’m talking 20-something degrees at night and a couple of feet of snow on the ground in the mountains of Western Maine.
Two more days brought five more inches of snow, and then three more inches. My wife and I were delighted. We never seem to get enough Winter Wonderland in Virginia. Meanwhile, Mainers, who had been up to their knees in snow since October, let us know quite emphatically that they had had more than enough of this by February. Hope deferred can sap the spirit, especially when winter blows right into April.
Robert Frost, who wrote many of his poems in neighboring New Hampshire, found wondrous things to behold during the all-too-short New England winter days. I thought of him while watching a couple of huge crows knocking snow off the high limbs of an enormous tree.
Published in the early 1920s, “Dust of Snow” celebrates the transformative capacity of a simple natural event:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
Frost gave snow a far deeper meaning in his classic “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which he wrote in 1922, just before the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep
I’ll leave it to the deep thinkers to analyze this little masterpiece, other than to say it’s one of the few poems I’ve memorized. It’s a marvelously lyrical journey into nature and the human soul. Frost often gently weaved Christian themes into his poetry, which is why so many of them touch the heart while igniting the mind.
But even Frost did not pine for the desolate prospect of a one-season climate, such as in C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” where, absent the saving grace of the Christ-lion Aslan, it was “always Winter but never Christmas.”
A New Hampshire spring is much like a Maine spring — short, but bracingly welcome. “To the Thawing Wind” (1915) pays homage to the season’s long-awaited arrival:
Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
Bring the singer, bring the nester;
Give the buried flower a dream;
Make the settled snowbank steam;
Find the brown beneath the white;
But whate’er you do tonight,
Bathe my window, make it flow,
Melt it as the ice will go;
Melt the glass and leave the sticks
Like a hermit’s crucifix;
Burst into my narrow stall;
Swing the picture on the wall;
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door.
In our age of instant gratification and tweets, it can take some doing to figure out just what a poet is trying to convey. Most of us — me included — are too impatient. And a lot of modern poetry, frankly, is so inscrutable or subjective it’s not worth our time. But there are wonderful poems out there by Frost or the other greats that have stood the test of time.
More of a prose guy myself, coming from the world of reporting and editing, I still marvel at how a skilled poet can elicit a visceral feeling or memory from just a few words.
Of current bards, Catharine Savage Brosman, who is poetry editor at Chronicles magazine, among other things, weaves together Frost-like passages that turn nature into a canvas for eternal themes.
It’s good stuff to read on a wintry day in April, or outside under a flowering tree after nature has stopped pulling away the spring football.
• Robert Knight is a contributor to The Washington Times.
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