the white stuff

Jan 21, 2021 poetry appreciation

Another term for cocaine, apparently; but I’m not suggesting we take things that far. It may or may not have been a white winter where you are, but in case it hasn’t, here’s Louis MacNeice’s magnificent poem on the subject to remind you of what ‘Snow‘ can do to us.

This is another of those poems which I find it hard to talk about, partly because I just lapse into incoherent babbling about how wonderful it is but partly because of the nature of the experience it’s conjuring. For ‘Snow’ seems to me to be about one of those inexplicable moments of presence when as it were we come into focus and are aware of everything—of ourselves, of the vastness and realness of the world, its largeness and otherness, our own separateness from everything else: ‘World is crazier and more of it than we think,/ Incorrigibly plural’. These moments of ‘feel[ing]/ The drunkenness of things being various’ are dizzying, intoxicating. They have a vertiginous quality which is hard to express but which I always reconnect with when I read this marvellous poem.

Such moments can’t be made to happen, either: that the poem takes us abruptly into the situation, and that the room is ‘suddenly rich’, both suggest the involuntary quality of this experience as well as its in-an-instant-ness. The repetitions of ‘world is…’ suggest an unsought revelation of the nature of existence, of our smallness and vulnerability (‘world/ Is… spiteful’) as well as the sheer rush and joy (‘world/ Is…. gay’) of being alive. There’s an incantatory quality to line 11 which reminds us of MacNeice’s ‘Prayer Before Birth’ (which you can read here and have it read to you by MacNeice himself); and though ‘Snow’ may not have the passionate urgency of ‘Prayer’ it does have a spiritual quality, a sense of accessing a different mode of perception.

And thinking of that returns me to the experience of being out in snow and watching the flakes ‘spawning’ (such a perfect word for it!) out of the heavens. There is a magic to it, a wildness, a bliss (unless we’re stuck on the M6 of course) in which I delight. Snow, like any “large” weather, reminds us that we’re not in charge. Chastening but important to remember that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

error: Content is protected !!