Sunday, March 04, 2007


Cold Outside, Cozy Inside

If one were to compile an anthology of writings about winter, many pages could be filled with verses on the topic by English nature poet John Clare (1793-1864), such as Schoolboys in Winter and Emmonsails Heath in Winter.

Clare's appropriately named Winter (which starts "From huddling nights embrace how chill / The winters waking days begin") doesn't seem to be available on the World Wide Web. In a couple of passages from that poem, Clare shifts the scene from the cold outside to the coziness to be found indoors.

Lines 33-40:
In winters surley depth how sweet
To meet those comforts we desire
Possesing some snug corner seat
Were blazes nigh the welcome fire
Warming ones toes upon the hearth
And reading poems not too long
While basks the cat in burring mirth
While crickets sing their winter song
Lines 265-272:
And give me now as then at eve
The chimney corners idle joys
As days cold scenes my rambles leave
To list the kettles simmering noise
And while the chimney mocks the blast
And windows quake with jarring din
Let doors and shutters tightend fast
Keep cold night out and comfort in
Eric Thomson draws my attention to Clare's The Gipsy Camp, where the scene inside is somewhat less cozy:
The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half-roasted dog squats close and rubs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare,
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
’Tis thus they live – a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.
Clare had no classical learning, but this is a theme with classical antecedents, some of which follow here.

Alcaeus, fragment 338 Voight (tr. C.H. Moore):
Zeus sends down rain, and from the sky there falls a mighty winter storm; frozen are the streams. Break down the storm by heaping up the fire; mix sweet wine ungrudgingly, and throw round thy head sweet lavender.
Horace, Epode 13.1-6:
A wild storm has caused the sky to frown, and rain and snow are drawing down Jupiter; now the sea, now the woods echo with the north wind from Thrace. Let us seize, my friend, the opportunity which the day presents. While our knees are strong and it is seemly, let old age be erased from the clouded brow. Uncork the wine pressed when my Torquatus was consul.
Horace, Ode 1.9.1-8:
You see how Mount Soracte stands out white with deep snow, and the struggling trees can no longer sustain the burden, and the rivers are frozen with sharp ice. Dispel the cold by liberally piling logs on the fireplace, and draw out more generously, o Thaliarchus, four-year-old unmixed wine from the two-handled Sabine jar.
Horace, Ode 1.11.3-6:
How much better it is to accept whatever shall be, whether Jupiter has given many more winters or whether this is the last one, which now breaks the force of the Tuscan sea against the facing cliffs. Be wise, strain the wine.

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