Poems about January Winds

January brings colder temperatures and the micro-seasons of Minor Cold (Jan. 06- Jan. 20) and Major Cold (Jan 20-Feb 03). It is also the time when wind chill is frequently mentioned in the weather forecasts.  

The wind chill factor is the rate of heat loss from the skin as a result of the wind and cold.  For those math minded people the formula for this is: 

  • Wind chill (ºF) = 35.74 + 0.6215T – 35.75(V^0.16) + 0.4275T(V^0.16)
    • Where: T = Air Temperature (F)
    • V = Wind Speed (mph)
    • ^ = raised to a power (exponential)

For those of us who might not be so math oriented, like myself, the reality of this formula is that as the wind increases, the wind draws away heat from the exposed skin.  This can then result in lower internal body temperatures.(1)  The higher rate of wind chill, the greater the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.  The National Weather Service provides us with this explanation.  

“If the temperature is 0°F and the wind is blowing at 15 mph, the wind chill is -19°F. At this wind chill temperature, exposed skin can freeze in 30 minutes”(1)

As you can imagine, frozen skin is a pretty serious health condition.  Frostbite, which is the common term for the freezing of the skin and underlying tissues, and can cause damage to the skin, muscle, and bones.(2)  In cases of severe frostbite, the skin can die and needs to be removed.

Given the dramatic impact that January can have on our lives, either through wind chill or just a drop in temperature, it is no surprise that there are poems written about this time of year.

winter landscape
Photo by Sebastian Beck on Pexels.com

The first poem we have about this time of year is “January” by Helen Hunt Jackson

“January” by Helen Hunt Jackson

O Winter! frozen pulse and heart of fire, 
What loss is theirs who from thy kingdom turn 
Dismayed, and think thy snow a sculptured urn 
Of death! Far sooner in midsummer tire 
The streams than under ice. June could not hire 
Her roses to forego the strength they learn 
In sleeping on thy breast. No fires can burn 
The bridges thou dost lay where men desire 
In vain to build. 
                                O Heart, when Love’s sun goes 
To northward, and the sounds of singing cease, 
Keep warm by inner fires, and rest in peace. 
Sleep on content, as sleeps the patient rose. 
Walk boldly on the white untrodden snows, 
The winter is the winter’s own release.

As I read this poem, I am really struck by the first couple of lines.  The “frozen pulse and heart of fire” and the “snow a sculptured urn”. These lines conjure up thoughts of a battle of life and death being waged on the landscape.  

I also enjoyed those last two lines: “Walk boldly on the white untrodden snows, The winter is the winter’s own release.”  When reading these lines, I think of all the time that I spend outdoors in the wind and the snow. It is a magical experience and there is a sense of boldness that must accompany any winter adventure.  

footprints in snow
Photo by Lloyd Freeman on Pexels.com

The next poem by William Carlos Williams is also titled “January”.  This poem also talks about the winds, but perhaps in a somewhat playful manner.

“January” by William Carlos Williams 

Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
                                  Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.
                                  And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
its derisive music.

What I enjoy about this poem is the relationship between Williams and the wind.  It is almost like the wind is teasing him, or perhaps luring him, but he will not falter from his writing.  Such a steadfast dedication to his craft!  

Haiku about winter wind

Matsuo Bashō, Kobayashi Issa , and Masaoka Shiki also wrote poems about winter winds.  Below are a few examples of their work.

Winter solitude —
In a world of one color
the sound of wind.
-Basho
Bleak is the Winter
White is the Color
And the Sound of Wind
-Basho
winter wind--
he can't find his roost
the evening crow
-Issa
winter wind--
yet the inlet's birds
get along well
-Issa
winter wind
from off the mountain...
night howling
-Issa
cold winter blast
a cord of a sedge hat
cut into my neck
-Shiki

My favorite haiku out of this group is Basho’s “Bleak is the winter.”  These three lines seem to capture my winter experience.  Sometimes things seem bleak, they are usually white and covered with snow, and the wind is always there.

Winter scene at beach
Photo by Dylan Thompson on Pexels.com

Resources:

Naturalist Weekly also has several curated book lists including one dedicated to William Carlos Williams, haiku, and all the books featured on our blog

Looking for more haiku from Issa? Visit David G. Lanoue’s website The Haiku of Kobayashi Issa

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20 thoughts on “Poems about January Winds

Add yours

  1. Hey, Mark. Like you, I’ll leave the math to the professors and just remember to bundle up on those windy winter days that take the breath right out of your lungs! I loved the poetry here as well (as always). I’m fascinated with the sonnet format (I have a couple on my blog), so Jackson’s piece really appealed to me. WCW’s playful poem was really cool. And, of course, the haiku masters! Oddly enough, just last night I was thinking about writing one of my six-haiku collections with each haiku beginning the with the same line, and then I see Issa has three haiku here beginning with “winter wind.” I suppose I could still try it sometime, but there’s no way to compete with someone of his stature (or Basho or Buson, et al). As cold as it gets here when the wind blows in January, I can’t imagine how cold it must be in your neck o’ the woods. The family farm in Utah would dip to as low as -20F during the winter nights (and as high as 110F in the summers), and it always amazed me that the livestock could survive those frigid temperatures in the winters. Anyway, good stuff, Mark, and thanks as always for including the haiku masters. 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, Glad that you found some stuff in here that spoke to you. I really liked Williams poem. It was very clever. I think you should totally try the haikus with the same opening line. I do that a lot in my notebooks. For me it is more about getting the words correct and sometimes it totally changes the meaning. I keep am eye out for them if you choose to write a series. Thanks for adding to the converstation. And suppose to be -5 later this week with a wind chill of -20. That is cold enough for me.

  2. Oh, that wind chill can be brutal. I didn’t realize there was a formula for it, but it makes sense there would be one. Here’s one I wrote about the wind awhile back:

    pine boughs bent with snow
    birds hide from numbing death
    in withering winds

  3. thanks again for another labour-of-love collection, Mark. I find them all engaging – my special love here is Basho, though ‘… in a world of one colour…’ I never knew of windchill before I moved to the UK (from continental Germany) but I had to learn fast, especially after moving from North Wales at sea level to landlocked county Nottinghamshire in England. Interested to hear there is a formula, but still wonder whether the social experience of windchill isn’t more to do with postindustrial disregard to biological rhythms (and lack of double-glazing which I was also unaware of before moving to the UK). Writing from centrally heated apartment in the Rhine valley, nr Bonn.

    1. Hi Barbara, Glad that you enjoyed the poems! Basho seems to be very good at capturing the essence of winter! Wind chill is one of those things that I become very aware of early in the mornings if I am outside before the sun rises. You can feel it in those parts of uncovered skin very quickly! I will say an unexpected benefit of having to wear a mask everywhere now is that at least my face is warm in the winter winds! Thanks for your continued support and comments. Have a great weekend

  4. Hi Barbara, Glad that you enjoyed the poems! Basho seems to be very good at capturing the essence of winter! Wind chill is one of those things that I become very aware of early in the mornings if I am outside before the sun rises. You can feel it in those parts of uncovered skin very quickly! I will say an unexpected benefit of having to wear a mask everywhere now is that at least my face is warm in the winter winds! Thanks for your continued support and comments. Have a great weekend.

  5. Love the Basho haiku! January in New Zealand is high summer so poems that specifically reference the name of the month completely ignore our experience in the southern hemisphere!

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