Our winter library
A selection of poems that we think are perfect to read in winter
A Bird-Scene at a Rural Dwelling
When the inmate stirs, the birds retire discreetly
From the window-ledge, whereon they whistled sweetly
And on the step of the door,
In the misty morning hoar;
But now the dweller is up they flee
To the crooked neighbouring codlin-tree;
And when he comes fully forth they seek the garden,
And call from the lofty costard, as pleading pardon
For shouting so near before
In their joy at being alive:--
Meanwhile the hammering clock within goes five.
I know a domicile of brown and green,
Where for a hundred summers there have been
Just such enactments, just such daybreaks seen.
Thomas Hardy ( 1840-1928)
A Light Snow-Fall after Frost
On the flat road a man at last appears:
How much his whitening hairs
Owe to the settling snow's mute anchorage,
And how much to a life's rough pilgrimage,
One cannot certify.
The frost is on the wane,
And cobwebs hanging close outside the pane
Pose as festoons of thick white worsted there,
Of their pale presence no eye being aware
Till the rime made them plain.
A second man comes by;
His ruddy beard brings fire to the pallid scene:
His coat is faded green;
Hence seems it that his mien
Wears something of the dye
Of the berried holm-trees that he passes nigh.
The snow-feathers so gently swoop that though
But half an hour ago
The road was brown, and now is starkly white,
A watcher would have failed defining quite
When it transformed it so.
Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
As the Tide Comes in
The quivering terns dart wild and dive,
As the tide comes tumbling in.
The calm rock-pools grow all alive,
With the tide tumbling in.
The crab who under the brown weed creeps,
And the snail who lies in his house and sleeps,
Awake and stir, as the plunging sweeps
Of the tide come tumbling in.
Grey driftwood swishes along the sand,
As the tide tumbles in,
With wreck and wrack from many a land,
On the tide, tumbling in.
About the beach are a broken spar, A pale anemone's torn sea-star
And scattered scum of the waves' old war,
As the tide comes tumbling in.
And, oh, there is a stir at the heart of me,
As the tide comes tumbling in,
All life once more is a part of me,
As the tide tumbles in.
New hopes awaken beneath despair
And thoughts slip free of the sloth of care
While beauty and love are everywhere --
As the tide comes tumbling in.
Cale Young Rice (1872-1943)
A Winter Hedgerow
The wintry wolds are white; the wind
Seems frozen; in the shelter'd nooks
The sparrows shiver; the black rooks
Wheel homeward where the elms behind
The manor stand; at the field's edge
The redbreasts in the blackthorn hedge
Sit close and under snowy eaves
The shrewmice sleep 'mid nested leaves.
William Sharp (1855–1905)
To this green hill a something dream-like clings,
Where day by day the little blunt sheep graze,
Threading the tussocks and the toadstool rings,
Nosing the barrows of the olden days.
An air drifts here that's sweet of sea and grass,
And down the combe-side living colour glows;
Spring, Summer, Fall, the chasing seasons pass
To Winter, even lovelier than those.
The dream is deep today, when all that's far
Of wandering water and of darkling wood,
Of weald and ghost-like Down combinèd are
In haze below this hill where God has stood.
Here I, too, stand until the light is gone,
And feed my wonder, while the sheep graze on.
John Galsworthy (1867-1933)
Conjured from matches and twists of paper,
the log-fire burns – a friend for a stranger,
warmth for damp days. Flames lean in and then turn,
swaying and waving, their heads raised in praise
of the moment. The heart sings in return:
ther is a sense of home, a place to laze,
enjoy the glow, somewhere to lose concerns
as movement and colour absorb your gaze.
Embers shift and stir, silhouettes form
of tigers, forests, castles, a box of jewels;
while in the flames themselves, a swirling storm
of plasma churns, as atoms and molecules
break and whirl. Light shines in this world of ours –
a hearth can hold the substance of the stars.
Isobel Montgomery Campbell (1956– )
In an Old Barn
Tons upon tons the brown-green fragrant hay
O'erbrims the mows beyond the time-warped eaves,
Up to the rafters where the spider weaves,
Though few flies wander his secluded way.
Through a high chink one lonely golden ray,
Wherein the dust is dancing, slants unstirred.
In the dry hush some rustlings light are heard,
Of winter-hidden mice at furtive play.
Far down, the cattle in their shadowed stalls,
Nose-deep in clover fodder's meadowy scent,
Forget the snows that whelm their pasture streams,
The frost that bites the world beyond their walls.
Warm housed, they dream of summer, well content
In day-long contemplation of their dreams.
Sir Charles G D Roberts (1860-1943)
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)
New Every Morning
Every day is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
And, spite of old sorrows
And older sinning,
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.
Susan Coolidge (1835-1905)
She sits beside: through four low panes of glass
The sun, a misty meadow, and the stream;
Falling through rounded elms the last sunbeam.
Through night's thick fibre sudden barges pass
With great forelights of gold, with trailing mass
Of timber: rearward of their transient gleam
The shadows settle, and profounder dream
Enters, fulfils the shadows. Vale and grass
Are now no more; a last leaf strays about,
Then every wandering ceases; we remain.
Clear dusk, the face of wind is on the sky:
The eyes I love lift to the upper pane--
Their voice gives note of welcome quietly
‘I love the air in which the stars come out.’
Michael Field (1846-1914)
From bleakening hills
Blows doen the light first breath
Of wintry wind... look up, and scent
Adelaide Crapsey (1878–1914)
Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.
Edward Thomas (1878-1917)
Soft is the sky in the mist-kirtled east,
Light is abroad on the sea,
All of the heaven with silver is fleeced,
Holding the sunrise in fee.
Lo! with a flash and uplifting of wings
Down where the long ripples break,
Cometh a bevy of glad-hearted things,
'Tis morn, for the gulls are awake.
Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942)
Quietly, quietly in from the fields
Of the grey Atlantic the billows come,
Like sheep to the fold.
Shorn by the rocks of fleecy foam,
They sink on the brown seaweed at home;
And a bell, like that of a bellwether,
Is scarcely heard from the buoy --
Save when they suddenly stumble together
In herded hurrying joy,
Upon its guidance: then soft music
From it is tolled.
Far out in the murk that follows them in
Is heard the call of the fog-horn's voice,
Like a shepherd's — low.
And the strays as if waiting it seem to pause
And lift their heads and listen — because
It is sweet from wandering ways to be driven,
When we have fearless breasts,
When all that we strayed for has been given,
When no want molests
Us more — no need of the tide's ebbing
And tide’s flow.
Cale Young Rice ( 1872-1943)
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).
The Poetry of Earth
In rigorous hours, when down the iron lane
The redbreast looks in vain
For hips and haws,
Lo, shining flowers upon my window pane
The silver pencil of the winter draws.
When all the snowy hill
And the bare woods are still;
When snipes are silent in the frozen bogs,
And all the garden garth is whelmed in mire,
Lo, by the hearth, the laughter of the logs –
More fair than roses, lo, the flowers of fire!
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)
There Is a Budding Morrow in Midnight
Wintry boughs against a wintry sky;
Yet the sky is partly blue
And the clouds are partly bright:--
Who can tell but sap is mounting high
Out of sight,
Ready to burst through?
Winter is the mother-nurse of Spring,
Lovely for her daughter's sake,
Not unlovely for her own:
For a future buds in everything;
Grown, or blown,
Or about to break.
Christina Georgina Rossetti 1830-1894)
The True Beauty
He that loves a rosy cheek
Or a coral lip admires,
Or from starlike eyes doth seek
Fuel to maintain his fires;
As old Time makes these decay,
So his flames must waste away.But a smooth and steadfast mind,
Gentle thoughts, and calm desires,
Hearts with equal love combined,
Kindle never-dying fires: --
Where these are not, I despise
Lovely cheeks or lips or eyes.
Thomas Carew (1598-1639)
I walked a nut-wood's gloom. And overhead
A pigeon's wing beat on the hidden boughs,
And shrews upon shy tunnelling woke thin
Late winter leaves with trickling sound.Across
My narrow path I saw the carrier ants
Burdened with little pieces of bright straw.
These things I heard and saw, with senses fine
For all the little traffic of the wood,
While everywhere, above me, underfoot,
And haunting every avenue of leaves,
Was mystery, unresting, taciturn.
And haunting the lucidities of life
That are my daily beauty, moves a theme,
Beating along my undiscovered mind.
John Drinkwater (1882-1937)
We watched the crows
We watched the crows,
At a little distance from us,
Become white as silver
As they flew in the sunshine;
And when they went still further
They looked like shapes of water
Passing over the green fields.
Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855)
From Winter in Strathearn
She crumbled the brown bread, she crumbled the white;
The snow lay deep, but the crumbs lay light:
The sparrows swept down like withered leaves;
The starlings sidled with scarlet greaves.
And burnished, black green harness scrolled
With damaskings of dark old gold;
The gallant robin, he came not nigh.
But tom-tit sparkled a frightened eye;
The blue blackbird with his saffron bill
Hopped with the crowd; and the finches sped
With their scarves of white and their vests of red
From the sea-green laurels; and out of the hill,
Where the steep Blue-rocks stood, stark and grey,
A jackdaw flew; and the carrion crow
Frightened them now and again away,
Swooping down on the bloodless prey
All in the powdery snow-white snow.
She crumbled the brown bread, she crumbled the white,
She fed them morning, noon and night.
They fought and scolded till supper was done,
Then wing after wing went away with the sun.
John Davidson (1857–1909)