Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Tuesday Poem: Snowdrop

Snowdrop


A pale and pining girl, head bowed, heart gnawed,
whose figure nods and shivers in a shawl
of fine white wool, has suddenly appeared
in the damp woods, as mild and mute as snowfall.
She may not last. She has no strength at all,
but stoops and shakes as if she’d stood all night
on one bare foot, confiding with the moonlight.

One among several hundred clear-eyed ghosts
who get up in the cold and blink and turn
into these trembling emblems of night frosts .........

Alice Oswald*

Snowdrops are usually seen as a sign of hope - the harbingers of spring in the UK, pushing up out of the ground when nothing else seems to be growing at all. The riverbank has been white with them for several weeks now. Alice Oswald is one of the UK’s most acclaimed poets, but I haven’t always found her work sympathetic. It was poetry I admired, but didn’t necessarily ‘feel’. Then I won this collection - Weeds and Wild Flowers - on DoveGreyReader’s book blog. It’s a combination of beautiful grey-scale etchings by Jessica Greenman and poems featuring a variety of wild flowers including some unusual choices such as ‘Bastard Toadflax’, ‘Pale Persicaria’ and ‘Bargeman’s Cabbage’. I was won over by Oswald’s fine observations and startling imagery and her strong control of structure.

‘Snow drop’ has always been one of my favourites. I had chosen this poem to post before the Japanese quake, but already in a rather sad frame of mind following the Christchurch quake and events in the middle east. And then I was reminded that ‘Snowdrop’ is the Russian slang for the bodies of the dead revealed every spring when the winter snow retreats. The poem suddenly took on a more macabre sense - snowdrop not just as a symbol of hope and survival, but also a reminder of the frailty of humanity in the natural world.

The poem ends on an upward swing, with a stress on the snowdrops’ ability to survive the long, hard winter.

‘But what a beauty, what a mighty power
of patience kept intact is now in flower.’

For more Tuesday Poems go to http://www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/

 * I don’t have official permission to quote the whole poem, so can only quote extracts ‘for the purposes of review and comment’.

8 comments:

  1. oh dear... I guess I'll have to buy the book now to read more. A deeper level now, to read knowing the Russian slang for 'snowdrop'. Thank you.

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  2. its a shivery lovely poem from what i can see of it

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  3. Such a beautiful poem, in these heart-achingly sad times. And such fragile hope.

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  4. What a lovely and unusual way of looking at a flower. And haunting, too. (I'm glad to see you are honouring copyright by only quoting extracts - something that seems to be so often ignored on the internet).

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  5. A lovely perspective on snow drops.
    There are patches of naturalised snowdrops out near Warburton in the Yarra Valley.
    Our winters aren't nearly as harsh as European ones, but is always nice to see them pop up. (even if strictly speaking they are a weed down this way)

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  6. Glad you all liked the poem, despite its sadness. Al - Didn't know you had snowdrops down in Oz? Must have been imported by a nostalgic Brit!

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  7. I copied down this poem for my nature journal, after water coloring a snowdrop.It fits the image perfectly. I especially like the line that goes. "...as if she'd stood all night on one bare foot, confiding with the moonlight."

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