Dark comes down


I’ve been back now a while from the shimmering cold of the Rockies. And now, here, we are stepping gingerly towards Christmas. But the chance of a snowy feast day seems slender. Outside right now the bare rowan and beech trees in the communal back green are a sharp crossing place of brown and black branch, with no snow, no dusting or freezing, sealing in or making more beautiful. There is no mysteriousness. Only the wind and the rain subsiding a little after days of howling and lashing. Only the wet slates and the tenements tholing the thinness of the day.

I went searching for a wintry poem, but all of them seemed built for a winter with snow. With something calming and sweet in the goosedown of white. So, instead, I found this slightly solemn verse:

I find one stark scene
cut by evening cries, by warring air.
The muffled hiss of blades escapes into breath,
hangs with it a moment, fades off.
Fades off, goes, the scene, the voices fade,
the line of trees, the woods that fall, decay
and break, the dark comes down, the shouts
run off into it and disappear.
At last the lamps go too, when fog
drives monstrous down the dual carriageway
out to the west, and even in my room
and on this paper I do not know
about that grey dead pane
of ice that sees nothing and that nothing sees.

– from ‘Winter’ by Edwin Morgan

A Scottish poet finds what it is about Scottish winters in the south of the country at least that makes them their own particularity. Fog, cold, rawness, a sense of light leaking away, of voices muffled by damp and the dark, oh the dark, the spirit of the winter. Not the brilliance of Rocky mountain snow, for all its harshness, bringing something consoling with it. None of that.

That’s not to be gloomy. It’s just that here, it’s hard to fling yourself out of doors. Even when there is snow, it’s usually here only briefly. A wonder of small wet petals as it falls. So we take our smaller spaces, and we lean into the wind and rain, holding out coats tight. Inside we look out on nothing comforting, and must find cheer in a little clementine, held up against the grey. In a warm drink and familiar songs on the speakers.

Last night I stayed up writing poems about fortune for my first long collection. All my poems are winter-dark poems, small, foggy, raw. Some lines I dreamed of falling asleep, and they’ve gone too like breath after speaking, white then nothing at all. Today I’ll work on The Library of Endings, starting it over from scratch. It too is a winter book, slipped into a place where summer is a squib and hail common in June (it hailed here too in May, so it’s not that fantastical).

I’ll write of a consoling, snowy winter and harsh narrow lives within it, I’ll live the real Scottish winter, going out into the rain.

Christmas doesn’t always look like the Christmas cards. but even so, we’ll have its warmth. And maybe a robin outside, flitting back in the labyrinth of twigs, a tiny smudge, that size of luminescence like a throbbing heart.


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