Saturday, February 8, 2014

QOTM...*: John Greenleaf Whittier

(*Quote of the Month)

It has been a lengthy cold snap here in Colorado, longer than is typical, two weeks without seeing a nice fifty-degree warmup. Family members in Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle have seemed to suffer worse than I, however, and it seems the ones who have had it the easiest this winter, relatively speaking, are my daughter and son-in-law's family in Alaska! So it all has caused the snatch of poetry that follows to stand out strongly: 

The moon above the eastern wood
Shone at its full; the hill range stood
Transfigured in the silver flood,
Its blown snows flashing cold and keen,
Dead white, save where some sharp ravine
Took shadow, or the somber green
Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black
Against the whiteness at their back.
For such a world and such a night
Most fitting that unwarming light,
Which only seemed where’er it fell
To make the coldness visible.

                                        ~~ John Greenleaf Whittier

Now having shared this, though, I have to confess: I am very sorry to say it, but poetry does not often turn me on. And I suppose the more complicated the poetry, the more quickly I lose interest, like, perhaps maybe, within nanoseconds. I have always wanted to love poetry more. Even to sit down with so fine a volume as Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir always sounds more inviting than it ends up being to me. I regret this very much, as some of the most wonderful people I know read it, write it, speak it and think it. I wish this were I.

(all photography by Rick and Gail Mylander)
Consequently, quotes from poetry masters will likely not often grace these blogposts. And though I’m not remembering where I came across this excerpt from American Transcendentalist poet John Greenleaf Whittier, this brief passage has the effect of nearly translating me to the edge of a winter forest at night, almost even feeling the piercing cold of the wind through my overcoat. It’s from a piece called Snow-Bound, published in 1866, and chronicles a memory the author had of his family holed up in their warm home during a blizzard.

Not a poetry reader? Then try this: read it through twice, silently and very slowly. Then read it aloud even more slowly, pausing not at the ends of lines but at the punctuation marks. See if this kind of read-through doesn’t cause you to visually enter the scene, maybe even make you want to pull your collar up just a little bit around your neck.

The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters become frozen. (Job 37:9-10)

~~RGM, February 5, 2014


  1. Alas, already have the soul of a poet my friend. Like the brush strokes of the great impressionists, words form to create pictures, rhythmically fitting together until we see (through words) what the poet sees. Great post Rick, perhaps one day we will see you musing about your world through poetry.

  2. Thanks, Lee. I used to think "It takes one to know one," but now I know that must not have been the truth! No really, it's hard to think of what I do as poetic, but more as 'just writing.' You're a poet, in many ways! And of course, God's poetry is pretty good, too... Hey to all!

  3. I'm with you Rick. Most poetry leaves me cold, especially if I read it silently. I do like Ogden Nash's poetry. For example:
    The one-l lama,
    He's a priest;
    The two-l llama,
    He's a beast.
    And I will bet
    A silk pajama
    There isn't any
    Three-l llama.

  4. Now that's my kind of poetry, Chuck! Love it! A poem I heard years ago and have often quoted to my kids is:

    One day while I was standing
    As quiet as could be,
    A great big ugly man came up
    And tied his horse to me.

    Maybe poets often just make things so complicated even THEY don’t understand what they’re saying!