Thoughts of Winter

As I welcome summer to central Texas — after a rainy fall, a drizzly winter, and an unusually cool spring — I reflect on the seasons and their associations. Winter, much as I dislike it — even in the relative warmth of central Texas — has its compensations:

The soft glow of twilight through the trees

A rumbling fire in the hearth

A chamber work on the sound system

A fine single-malt at my side

The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World in my hand:

I have had enough of wisdom, and enough of mirth,
For the way’s one and the end’s one, and it’s soon to the ends of the earth;
And it’s then good-night and to bed, and if heels or heart ache,
Well, it’s sound sleep and long sleep, and sleep too deep to wake.

From Wanderer’s Song, by Arthur Symons (1865-1945)

The Lord knows what we may find, dear lass,
And the Deuce knows what we may do —
But we’re back once more on the old trail, our own trail, the out trail,
We’re down, hull-down, on the Long Trail — the trail that is always new!

From The Long Trail, by Rudyard Kipling (1869-1936)

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses;
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Inchohare Longam, by Ernest Dowson (1867-1900)

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finish’d and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yes, hungry for the lips of my desire;
I have been faithful to thee Cynara! in my fashion.

From Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae, by Dowson

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

From The Hill, by Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1930)

The beauty, shattered by the laws
That have creation in their keeping,
No longer trembles at applause,
Or over children that are sleeping;
And we who delve in beauty’s lore
Know all the we have known before
Of what inexorable cause
Makes Time so vicious in his reaping.

From For a Dead Lady, by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

“For Auld Lang Syne.” The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered, and the song was done.
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below —
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.

From Mr. Flood’s Party, by Robinson

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

From War Is Kind, by Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

Time, you old gipsy man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?….

Last week in Babylon,
Last night in Rome,
Morning and in the crush
Under Paul’s dome;
Under Paul’s dial
You tighten your rein —
Only a moment, and off once again;
Off to some city
Now blind in the womb,
Off to another
Ere that’s in the tomb.

From Time, You Old Gipsy Man, by Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962)

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

From In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae (1872-1918)

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England,
The have no graves as yet.

From Elegy in a Country Churchyard, by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1956)

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Pocahontas’ body, lovely as a poplar, sweet as a red haw
in November or a paw-paw in May, did she wonder, does
she remember? . . . in the dust, in the cool tombs?

From Cool Tombs, by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

“We are earth’s best, that learnt her lesson her.
Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!” we said;
“We shall go down with unreluctant tread
Rose-crowned into the darkness!” . . . Proud we were,
And laughed, that had such brave true things to say,
— And then you suddenly cried and turned away.

From The Hill, by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Heart, you were never hot,
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
And though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.

From Greater Love, by Wilfred Own (1893-1918)

Stick your patent name on a signboard
brother — all over — going west — young man
Tintex — Japalac — Certain-teed Overalls ads
and land sakes! under the new playbill ripped
in the guaranteed corner — see Bert Williams what!
Minstrels when you steal a chicken just
save me the wing for if it isn’t
Erie it ain’t for miles around a
Mazda — and the telegraphic night coming on Thomas
a Ediford — and whistling down the tracks a headlight rushing with the sound….

From The Bridge (“The River”), by Hart Crane (1899-1932)

Leave now
The shut gate and the decomposing wall:
The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush,
Riots with his tongue through the bush —
Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!

From Ode to the Confederate Dead, by Allen Tate (1899-1979)

It’s no go the merry-go-round, it’s no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with heads of bison….

It’s no go my honey love, it’s no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall for ever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.

From Bagpipe Music, by Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

But those thoughts are for the melancholy and nostalgic reveries of winter. I now rejoice in glorious summer:

Into the rooms flow meadow airs,
The warm farm baking smell’s blown round.
Inside and out, and sky and ground
Are much the same; the wishing star,
Hesperus, kind and early born,
Is risen only finger-far;
All stars stand close in summer air,
And tremble, and look mild as amber;
When wicks are lighted in the chamber,
They are like stars which settled there.

From Country Summer, by Leonie Adams (1899-1988)