Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Tuesday Poem: 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 .........
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’.