Saturday, June 20, 2009

In praise of the winter solstice

Stephanie at Humanities Researcher is off tonight to a winter solstice feast, where seasonal poems will be read. I will be celebrating Solstice Lite with ceremonial mulled wine up in the Adelaide Hills with my mate R tomorrow afternoon and proposing a ceremonial toast: roll on earlier sunrises and later sunsets. But I love the idea of a seasonal poem, so here is my absolutely favourite winter one, Coleridge's 'Frost at Midnight'.

The frost performs its secret ministry
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud -- and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which flutters on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, everywhere
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And make a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birthplace, and the old church tower,
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things I dreamt
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger's face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My playmate when we both were clothed alike!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the traces of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.


Anthony said...

I'm sure that post-solstice the days get longer. I'm less sure that this means the sunrises get earlier. Can someone help me out here?

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Anthony, Here you go.

Zoe said...

Oh my stars, it's been a long time since I read that poem.

Thank you, Pav.


Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Nice for you, Z -- what with icy Canberra and the sleeping* Jet and all.

*One hopes

Anonymous said...

Hey ma'am

That David Eagleman fellow you praised the other day was interviewed on Radio National yesterday - transcript, sound file or podcast available here.

B Smith

Unknown said...

Ooh er. Good choice, Dr Cat. No one read that one last night, but this group, with variations, has been meeting for over 12 years, so perhaps someone has read it before. It was our first time. And it was really lovely: home made minestrone; sardines; osso bucco; eggplant parmigiana; christmas (or should I call it plum) pudding, and tira mi su.

If we didn't have winter bodies before dinner, we do now...

fifi said...

Oh, I have never read that poem before so thank you.
And have never had the joy of a solstice gathering, with poems read, either.
But i did mark the day, with many other foolhardy souls, by swimming in a Winter Solstice Swim Classic, heading out for about 2km out in a beautiful wintry ocean, with plumes of snowy foam in lieu of frost...

Spike said...

Wow, I haven't read that since high school. Thanks, it's been too long.

Anonymous said...

Oh lovely solar site way too complicated for me. But I thought of you PC, as I walked the dogs in the dark, and my heart lifted, thinking (more with Angela Carter really, and that lovely idea about the hinge of the year) that eventually, in a month or so, I will walk over this rise, and there will be light, not fog, in the valley at 6 am... (Actually, in a month or so, I hope to be sleeping in at 6 am every single day) Yay solstice, and thanks for the poem...

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

What a hardy soul you are to be sure, T. I keep vampire hours myself so rarely see the dawn, more's the pity. Had forgotten the Carter hinge, lovely. xx