Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Richard Wilbur, "First Snow in Alsace"

The snow came down last night like moths
Burned on the moon; it fell till dawn,
Covered the town with simple cloths.

Absolute snow lies rumpled on
What shellbursts scattered and deranged,
Entangled railings, crevassed lawn.

As if it did not know they'd changed,
Snow smoothly clasps the roofs of homes
Fear-gutted, trustless and estranged.

The ration stacks are milky domes;
Across the ammunition pile
The snow has climbed in sparkling combs.

You think: beyond the town a mile
Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes
Of soldiers dead a little while.

Persons and persons in disguise,
Walking the new air white and fine,
Trade glances quick with shared surprise.

At children's windows, heaped, benign,
As always, winter shines the most,
And frost makes marvelous designs.

The night guard coming from his post,
Ten first-snows back in thought, walks slow
And warms him with a boyish boast:

He was the first to see the snow.


From The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems (1947)

An offered gloss: Even within the most unnatural destruction and fear of war, beauty may blossom naturally, our recognition and appreciation of it a force of life and showing forth of our humanity. At the same time, these initial instincts might be seen to contain seeds of hubris, or to display an ignorance of the obliviating power of beauty, the way such transformation may be a form of elision, covering up, or death. Beauty is like snow, is a balm which ambivalently may both conceal and heal.

(More about Richard Wilbur, including audio:
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1 comment:

John Irving Clarke said...

Sorry to arrive so late at this post. Nevertheless, it is a fabulous poem which will resonate long after the snow season is over. So difficult to write about snow (a lot of people have tried already) but Richard Wilbur has succeeded magnificently and I will file this poem as the go to poem for snowy days and poetry workshops on weather.