Saturday, 6 February 2016
Saturday Rave: To Winter by William Blake.
There are many wonderful things about William Blake's poetry, but one of the best is that most of the time no one's sure what they're about.
This one, To Winter, seems pretty straightforward to me: it's about the weather. That hasn't stopped a lot of words being written about To Winter, though, especially as Blake later constructed a whole mythology, of which this poem was perhaps part of the beginning.
To Winter is one of a set of four poems (I'll leave you to guess the subject of the others). It's magnificently mighty, mesmerising stuff.
O winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car*.
He hears me not, but o'er the yawning deep
Rides heavy: his storms are unchained, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear'd his sceptre o'er the world.
Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o'er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.
He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal'st
With storms, till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla**.
Satellite image of a winter storm.
Word To Use Today: adamantine. Adamant is an Old English word and comes from the Greek daman, to tame or conquer. In this case the a- bit at the beginning means not.
*Car is a word for chariot quite often used in poetry of this sort of age, ie, long before cars.
**Mount Hecla, a volcano in Iceland, was thought to be the gate to Hell. An odd location for Winter to dwell: I would have thought: uncomfortably hot.
Hmm...no wonder he was so cross.