Poems for Winter Nights

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

by Jacquelyn Malone

Please note: to submit poems, we have changed the submission address to info@masspoetry.org (formerly jackie@masspoetry.org).

It’s cold outside, and light is scarce. It’s that time of year when we all, like hibernating bears, dig in. So what is the happiest thing to do? Build a fire (those of us who have fireplaces) and curl up with an afghan (those of us who don’t). If you are a lover of poetry, which I assume is true of most of you reading this piece, then this is a moment to ignore the darkness and melt into the joy of poems about winter.

Here are some wonderful reader suggestions to add to the original list below of winter poems. Tonight may be just cold enough for another round of warm fire, popcorn, and poetry. Enjoy!

Emma Moser likes "Snow Day" by Billy Collins. She says, “I appreciate how it builds tension and paradox by exploring the quiet violence of winter.” She also suggests “Thirteen Ways of looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens. She says, “While many of the stanzas here make for good winter reading, I believe XIII brilliantly captures  the all-enveloping presence of winter through its simple imagery.

Margaret Young recommends Robert Francis's "Cold" for its “bedazzlement and daring, ecstatic wonder, myth and mystery and that last line: ‘I huddle, hoard, hold out, hold on, hold on.’"

Alice Kociemba recommends Mark Strand’s “Lines for Winter.” About the poem, she says, "There is something that is both chilling and comforting in this poem by Mark Strand.  Especially the final three lines, 'tell yourself/in that final flowing of cold through your limbs/that you love what your are.'  Not just because of Strand's recent death, but this poem always makes me feel more alive whenever I read it.  And I have read it at one of our Poetry Discussion Group's winter "Favorite Poems" potlucks." She also suggests “The Journey of the Magi” by T. S Eliot.

Claire Keyes  praises Emily Dickinson’s “There's a certain slant of light. . . .”   She asks, “Why do I like this poem? I don't really like it the way one likes, say, Latin music or ice cream pie. It's a heavy poem about a heavy subject: depression, loneliness.  This poem strikes me as true. Its language stays with me: like the heft of Cathedral tunes. Isn't this synesthesia? Heft= touch; Cathedral tunes: sound, music. Dickinson pulls them together in one striking image. "Heavenly hurt it gives us."  Right.  "Internal difference where the meanings are." Right again. Dickinson gets at inner states of being by means of the world "outside"--that certain slant of light. We all inhabit these two states of being, inner world, outer world, and who better to identify that relationship than Emily Dickinson.  

And here are the poems I started with myself, beginning with a poem I recently discovered, Margaret Atwood’s “February.” It’s a wry, humorous poem that suggests human greed, need and destructiveness as observed in the winter antics of a cat. I love the way it begins with an end rhyme and then moves quickly to internal rhymes.

Winter. Time to eat fat

and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,   

a black fur sausage with yellow

Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries   

to get onto my head. . . .

Read all of  “February” here.

While Atwood’s poem explores the dark side of winter, this short, subtle one by Linda Gregg proclaims the beauty of winter light: “Winter Love”

Who doesn’t love Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man”? And who doesn’t remember that wonderful opening line: “One must have a mind of winter”? Enjoy it here.

I can’t create a list of winter poems without including Robert Frost’s "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  “Whose woods these are…” 

Most mornings I take my attitude toward winter that Ezra Pound does in his witty, profane takeoff of the medieval poem “Sumer Is Icumen In.” Here’s Pound’s version of summer’s seasonal opposite, “Ancient Music.”

John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Snow-Bound” is a poem many New Englanders know.

Here is Thomas Hardy’s bleak view of winter, suddenly enlivened by the song of a bird: “The Darkling Thrush.”  

And finally, here is Linda Pastan’s “Wind Chill,”  a poem in which winter turns death into a formal arrangement.

I could go on, but I leave space to you, the reader, to add your favorite. Here are the rules for submitting your favorite winter poem:

          1.     Submit the link to one poem. (Link only—no text, as we’d need legal permissions to reprint the text of the poems.)
          2.     Submit a short sentence about why you like the poem.
          3.     Send to info@masspoetry.org.

We will be adding to this list only twice: January 2 and January 5. So submit your favorites right away.

Meanwhile, start that fire, pour yourself a glass of wine or make yourself a hot chocolate, curl up in an afghan, and read the poems of winter!