something winter-y

Jan 21, 2022 poetry appreciation

This week’s poem is another recent discovery and I’m not sure quite what appeals to me so much about it. But something does. See what you make of Tom Hennen’s charming ‘Sheep in the Winter Night (which Garrison will read for you at 2:38, if you so wish).

There’s something very pleasing about Hennen’s imagining of what the animals might be thinking. It’s delightful and playful but recognises that the sheep are beings, just as we are. They have burdens: being judged for what they do naturally in effort to survive, or the way they look; being co-opted as symbols for something which means nothing to them… It’s funny and fanciful but there’s a point in there somewhere, however lightly made. We’d object to those things too.

Though these imaginings are whimsical they are expressed in very plain, almost conversational language. As it unfolds, though, the rest of the poem has a mysterious feel, evoking not only the magic of might but also a mystical sense of the oneness of things, of the ‘force that through the green fuse drives the flower‘. ‘In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were/ full of light gathered on summer pastures’ is where the poem moves into this different tone. The image is visually evocative—I think of how sheep seen on night-time fells glimmer in the dark—but beautiful, too, leading us into the evocation of the silent and unknowable night. There’s something lovely about imagining the owl, the rabbit and the trees thinking and wondering and being alive in a way we can relate to—lovely, but avoiding any kind of twee-ness or saccharine quality. And finally, there’s something quietly but deeply moving, for me anyway, about the assumption that we can all recognise ‘the power that moves through the world and makes our/ hair stand on end’: that there is an unknowable mystery at the heart of things (‘the power… was keeping the answer to itself’), which we can all sense; of which we are all a part.

Now that I think about it, no wonder I like this poem!

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