Poems about Snow and Ice

The holiday season is coming to a close, and we are entering the coldest part of the year.  If we were to look at the mini-seasons of the traditional Japanese calendar we would notice that we are transitioning to the Minor Cold and Major Cold seasons.  These are the last two seasons that make up the full winter season.

This also the time that the snow and ice begin to accumulate in northern Vermont. Over the next few months, there will be very few days above freezing. The snow and ice are now just part of the landscape.  

Snow and trees
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The cold days of midwinter provided plenty of time for poets like Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Matsuo Basho, and Kobayashi Issa to reflect on the snow and ice.

Let’s begin by reading “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens.

“The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Stevens does a great job at questioning how we interact with this season.  He suggests that we must have “a mind of winter/ To regard the frost” and “For the listener, who listens in the snow/ And, nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is”.  It seems like Stevens is asking us to pay attention to what is around us and ask ourselves, “What truths are held in the winter landscape?”

As we talk about this connection between snow, ice, and the human experience, we cannot skip over Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice”.  

Ice in the sun
Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

“Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost

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.

This poem first appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1923, and then again in Frost’s book New Hampshire. In this poem, Frost directly links our human emotions to the natural elements.  Fire is desire, hatred is ice. This poem is said to be inspired by a passage of Dante’s Inferno where the “sinners were preserved in ice.”(3) It is an interesting way to contemplate the end of the world and how, if you had the chance, would you like to go.


Finally, we will shift our attention to Matsuo Basho and Kobayashi Issa who will provide us with a few direct observations of the impact of snow and ice. 

awakened at midnight
by the sound of the water jar
cracking from the ice
-Matsuo Basho

on the tip of
the Buddha's blessed nose
an icicle
-Kobayashi Issa

Basho and Issa capture the direct experience of ice. It can crack jars, and it can hang from our noses. But perhaps, in these short statements, there is a deeper truth. Maybe something similar to what Stevens was asking of us. To find the universal truths in the winter landscape.

Ice on tree branch
Photo by Dan Hamill on Pexels.com

Resources:

  1. Wallace Stevens: “The Snow Man”. Poetry Foundation
  2. Robert Frost: “Fire and Ice”. Poetry Foundation
  3. Wikipedia: Fire and Ice (Poem)

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21 thoughts on “Poems about Snow and Ice

Add yours

  1. Marvellous! I love Issa’s verse; it makes me smile but it also reminds me of those icy winter days! Days which we are missing just now. Out for my walk this morning a man walked by wearing a t-shirt and shorts! Temperature today? Just above 50f! And somewhere in the U.S. there are big fires (Colorado I think). Mark, a great post to end the old year. Wishing you a happy healthy 2022 🙋‍♂️

    1. Hi Ashley, It is actually quite warm here today. Not quite 50, but about 36f. I am really enjoying Issa and Shiki’s haikus. I haven’t found many of Shiki’s that fit into my posts, but I do find them enjoyable. Thanks for the good wishes, and I hope that have a great New Year’s weekend.

  2. Mark, – was halfway to making a small donation to get you off cheap coffee for an hour – but then wp warned me if I did, it would mean agreeing to a .com account being opened and that managing the payment and – I recoiled in horror at the memory of issues with wp/account access and getting in touch with them.- Have you thought about using that button ‘buy me a coffee’ I saw one blogger using? HNY and all in any case.

    1. Hi Barbara, thanks for that feedback on the process. That is a little depressing that the system doesn’t make it easy. I will look into the button idea. I appreciate the thought and thanks for letting me! Thanks again for your continued support! I hope is all well and you have a good New Year.

      1. Hi Barbara, thanks again for the information. I actually found a PayPal Widget on WordPress that works similar to Buyacoffee.com. I went went that way. Hopefully, it will be less cumbersome to the next person who visits. Thanks again for the feedback it was very helpful.

      2. Hi Barbara, Thank you very much for your support! It is greatly appreciated. Just letting me know that the original system was overwhelming was priceless! I hope you are have a good New Year.

  3. I like Basho’s poem. It is perfect for right now as the sun is currently breaking up the ice on my roof and we are now living under a thousand mini moving icebergs until it refreezes when darkness falls. I can’t say I have a mind for Winter. I have a Farmer/Gardeners mind. Around here, we are curled up in blankets looking over seed catalogs and plotting for our plantings and chores to be done in the Spring. I am always of the mind to plan for the season ahead of the one I am currently in. Since I stocked for Winter in the Fall, we could stay home for weeks without a problem. For me it is “Root vegetable season.”

    1. Hi Melanie, I think I have become a winter person more than a summer person. I seem to be more comfortable in the winter. Except when I have to remove lots of snow from the driveway. And, I guess, there was the one year that we tried to live on vegetables that we got from our CSA. I did get a little sick of roasted turnips and potatoes after a couple of months. I am glad that you are thawing out a bit. I hope you have a good new year! Talk soon,

  4. Basho + Issa = joy, regardless of season or subject matter. Always glad to see you’ve included some of their haiku. I know very little about Wallace Stevens (“the Emperor of Ice Cream” is the only one of his that comes to mind). His style is unique. As for Frost, I have his complete works and am familiar with the piece you’ve included here. What a fantastic nature poet he was (I think my fave of his is “The Pasture”). As much disdain as I have for winter, I must confess it is rife with symbolism and ideal for the dark, introspective poetry I like to write. As always, you’ve crafted a good piece of writing in this essay. 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, thanks again for adding to the conversation. Frost has so many great poems and I was trying to figure out when to use this one.
      I have to agree that winter brings out a different kind of poetry. I hope you had a good new year. Talk soon,

  5. The extremes can be interesting, too. This morning, near Pensacola, Florida, it was in the mid-seventies. We fed our Labdrador retriever on the patio outside at 6:00 p.m. It was still warm and humid. Roughly seven minutes later, I heard her bark to be let back in (so she could beg for our dinner), and was hit in the face by a blast of hard, cold, wind-driven rain. It will be close to freezing in the wee hours.

    1. Hi Beth, Wow! What a difference in temperature. You could almost say the difference is like night and day! (I made myself laugh with that one.) But seriously, thanks for adding to the conversation and I hope you are staying warm.

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