Thursday, 5 February 2015

"NOT AN ATOM OF LAND IS NOT UNDER SNOW"

Candlemass Day (2 February) comes mid-way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.

Last week the snowdrops opened, traditional Candlemass flowers, splashes of white under bare winter trees.  On Thursday the snow came, the A66 was closed and the city of Carlisle was gridlocked by road accidents.  Watching the flakes fall from the warmth of my living room I thought of Louis MacNeice's poem "Snow":

"The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was/ Spawning snow and pink roses against it ...World is suddenner than we fancy it".

The next day everything had settled down and most roads were passable again.  The title of this post (translated from the Gaelic and not strictly true last week) comes from aonghas macneacail's long poem "the great snow battle" in his bilingual collection laughing at the clock (you get used to the absence of initial capitals after a while).  If you thought there was not a lot to say about snow you should read his ten pages of virtuoso poetry about the "marvel of snow" ("virginal snow', "faultless snow", "slaughtering snow").

On Sunday I walked with friends by the Solway.  The snow lay right down to the shore line.  Flocks of wintering waders diligently followed the retreating tide.  Across the estuary the Scottish hills were cloaked in white and sparkled in the piercing low sunlight.  I thought of the country saying "On Candlemass Day you should have half your straw and two thirds of your hay'.  Good farming advice if metrically awkward.

Today I went up to Nether Row and walked along the track through Potts Gill on the Caldbeck Fells.  When I returned home the snow had thawed in my garden and the snowdrops had reappeared.  In Welsh snowdrop is lili wen fach - little white lily.  At Plas yn Rhiw in North Wales the snowdrops in the woodland surrounding the house are like great white linen sheets laid out on the ground to bleach in the sun.

Another annual snowdrop spectacle is in the garden of a large old house a few minutes' walk from where I live.  The house had been derelict for years when I wrote this poem.  The house has since been sold and made habitable again and I'm glad to say the snowdrops are still there.

Snowdrops

It could be Miss Havisham's house, shabbier by the year,
cream stucco and yellow door greying down to dust,

but on the lawn a bridal veil of snowdrops,
furtive, wax candle white, heads bowed as if come

to early, dreading the inevitable blows -
this year may be the last wedding of the house.

Mary Robinson



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