Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Top 10 Snow Poems

Britain shivers, but also - whatever Mr Osborne says - gleefully skives for a few snowy days. Since the only thing better than an autumnal poem is one about snow, here's my top 10 wintery favourites. In order of my thinking of them, not in order of preference.

1. 'Snow' by Louis Macneice

An obvious choice, I know, but the snow poem all other snow poems now have to nod in the direction of.

2. 'History' by Paul Muldoon

Okay, getting off topic already - but this surely has to be the best response to Mcneice?

3. 'Snow' by David Briggs

A poem about words for snow, and how the wonder is as much in the words as in the snow.

4. 'Snow-Flakes' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Snow as 'the poem of the air'.

5. 'Snow Melting' by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Snow melts to reveal a world without love.

6. 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' by Robert Frost

One of the best-known poems by any American poet. And the Fozzie Bear rendition is pretty good, too.

7. 'The Buck in the Snow' by Edna St. Vincent Millay

An uncanny, almost symbolist poem - frustrated desire and failed communication.

8. 'Slush' by Alan Buckley

A poem about the loss of growing up that also tackles the theme of climate change in a subtle and personal way.

9. 'Snow Water' by Michael Longley

Imagine drinking the purity of snow.

10. 'Snow and Snow' by Ted Hughes

The sensuality of snow in Hughes' transformative imagination.

I'm sure other people have their favourites - maybe some I don't know. Why note share them with a comment on the blog?


  1. Lovely stuff David, thank you. I like 'Spring Snow' by Willam Matthews.
    You can find it on the Poetry Foundation website. Also 'the snow is melting' by Kobayashi Issa
    which I can quote in full as it is a haiku.

    The snow is melting
    and the village is flooded
    with children.

  2. Thanks for those, Roy! I don't know Mathews' work, but I enjoyed his exploration of snow and memory. It really is a childhood kind of weather.

  3. Thanks. I know and love several of those on your list.

  4. Got to be Frost forvme, enigmatic....snow creates such purity and mystery

    1. It is very memorable, Kate - and I wouldn't be the first person to point out the irony of Mr Frost being best known for a snowy poem.

  5. Signs on a White Field by Robin Robertson

    The sun’s hinge on the burnt horizon
    has woken the sealed lake,
    leaving a sleeve of sound. No wind,
    just curved plates of air
    re-shaping under the trap-ice,
    straining to give; the groans and rumbles
    like someone shifting heavy tables
    – or something gigantic
    turning to get comfortable.
    I snick a stone over the long sprung deck
    to get the dobro’s glassy note, the crying
    slide of a bottleneck, its
    tremulous ululation to the other shore.
    The rocks are ice-veined; the trees
    swagged with snow.
    Here and there, a sudden frost
    has caught some turbulence in the water
    and made it solid: frozen in its distress
    to a scar, or a skin-graft.
    Everywhere, frost-heave has jacked up boulders
    clear of the surface, and the ice-shove
    has piled great slabs on the lake-edge
    like luggage tumbled from a carousel.

    A racket of jackdaws, the serrated call
    of a falcon as I walk out onto the lake.

    A living lens of ice; you can hear it bending,
    breathing, re-adjusting its weight and light
    as the hidden tons of water
    swell and stretch underneath,
    thickening with cold.
    A low grumble, a lingering vibrato, creaks
    that seem to echo back and forth for hours;
    the lake is talking to itself. A loud
    twang in the ice. Twitterings
    in the railway lines
    from a train about to arrive.
    A pencilled-in silence,
    hollow and provisional.
    And then it comes.
    The detonating crack, like a gun
    or a dropped plank,
    as if the whole lake has snapped in two
    and the world will follow,
    falling into fracture.
    But all that happens
    is a huge release of sound: a boom
    that rolls under the ice for miles,
    some fluked leviathan let loose
    from centuries of sleep, trying to push through,
    shaking the air like sheet metal, deep
    and percussive as a muffled giant drum.

    I hear the lake all night, like a distant war.
    In the morning’s brightness,
    I brush the snow off with a glove,
    smooth down a porthole in the crust
    and find, somehow, the living green beneath.
    The green leaf looks back and sees
    a man walking out in this shuddering light
    to the sound of air under the ice,
    out onto the lake, among sun-cups,
    snow penitents: a drowned man
    waked in this weathering ground.

    First read this on Roy Marshall's Favouite Poem of the week and it made me cry. Loved your choices too. Thanks

    1. That's really great. Enigmatic and beautifully imagined.