Thursday, 4 January 2018

Transformation, Icy Crystals and New Ways of Seeing Our Familiar World

When snow comes some people think - cancelled arrangements, dangerous roads, closed schools and colleges, black ice, piles of dirty slush, inconvenience....
but as children, snow fills us with excitement, with wonder and joy. We think snowmen, snow angels, toboggans, snowballs, sparkling white trees and ice skating on frozen lakes...

I remember a winter when the snow was so deep, that I had to pick up our pet dog (a miniature poodle) as he struggled through the snow in the local park, stopped, and then put his front paws on a bank of snow and wore a pleading look on his face. I was nine at the time. We have video footage of me taking pity on him, and scooping him up in my arms to save him from the snow drifts.

Snow has inspired so many poets and writers. I think snow must be equal to the moon in its potential as a subject which fires the imagination, with its profound symbolism and so much rich associativeness of meaning. I think of Hans Christian Anderson's story The Snow Queen and the idea of Kay trapped in the Ice Palace, condemned by the Snow Queen to spell "eternity" in pieces of ice.

Walter de la Mare was one of my favourite poets during my early years. In his poem Snow - as in many of his other classic poems (The Listeners, Clavichord and Silver being among my most-loved) -  his beguiling sensuous command of language weaves its spell:

Whispering, rustling,
Through the air
On still and stone,
Roof, - everywhere,
It heaps its powdery
Crystal flakes,
Of every tree
A mountain makes.

Also, I think of the lyrics of the song The Snow by Sir Edward Elgar, which I sang several times during my childhood, as a member of a girls choir. It's a beautiful song full of poignancy and melancholy and yearning, which, as the lyrics here show, uses the snow as a metaphor for emotional, psychological and spiritual states:

O soul, be thou as white,
As white as snow, 
O snow, which falls so slow,
Dear earth quite warm below;
O heart, so keep thy glow,
Beneath the snow.

And then, of course, CS Lewis uses snow to represent how Narnia lies in a frozen state during the reign of the White Witch. This is a land forever in winter with no Christmas. Snow here is associated with a cold heart and a cruel domination. The vision of the lamp shining out through the snow-laden fir trees is one of the most cherished images in children's literature.

How wonderful to reflect that so many aspects of the physical creation can be transformed by the poetic imagination to encompass our spiritual nature too. 


  1. Snow is a novelty for me, living in Australia where it's darned hot right now.

  2. Snow always reminds me of when I studied James Joyce's story 'The Dead' (in his 'Dubliners' collection). He uses snow to brilliant symbolic effect in that story. There's also a poem by Carol Ann Duffy called 'Stealing' in which a depressed, lonely character steals a snowman for a friend but then gets disillusioned when it melts. I've always loved teaching it.

  3. I loved teaching that one too, Fran. Sadly long gone!

  4. That's nice, SC, and inspiring. Snow means very different things to my Finnish wife and my Brazilian daughter-in-law. Our (childhood) experiences colour the way we see things now.