This week, our themes are snow and winter. Let’s begin with two poems about snow.
“The landscapes of winter can seem bleak and unforgiving to many people, but Pablo Neruda latches on to an image that blazed through a Berlin winter–an image of horses. As the poem ends, “I have forgotten that dark Berlin winter.//I will not forget the light of the horses.” (Writer’s Digest)
. . .A bit about Pablo Neruda . . .
Pablo Neruda was the pen name and, later, legal name of the Chilean poet-diplomat and politician Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (July 12, 1904 – September 23, 1973). He derived his pen name from the Czech poet Jan Neruda. Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.
Neruda became known as a poet when he was 10 years old. He wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems such as the ones in his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924).
The Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called Neruda “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.”
On July 15, 1945, at Pacaembu Stadium in São Paulo, Brazil, Neruda read to 100,000 people in honor of the Communist revolutionary leader Luís Carlos Prestes.
During his lifetime, Neruda occupied many diplomatic positions and served a term as a Senator for the Chilean Communist Party. When President González Videla outlawed communism in Chile in 1948, a warrant was issued for Neruda’s arrest. Friends hid him for months in the basement of a house in the port city of Valparaíso. Later, Neruda escaped through a mountain pass near Maihue Lake into Argentina.
Years later, Neruda was a close advisor to Chile’s socialist President Salvador Allende. When Neruda returned to Chile after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Allende invited him to read at the Estadio Nacional before 70,000 people.
Neruda was hospitalized with cancer at the time of the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet but returned home after a few days when he suspected a doctor of injecting him with an unknown substance for the purpose of murdering him at the order of Pinochet. Neruda died in his house in Isla Negra on 23 September 1973 hours after leaving the hospital. Although it has always been reported that he died of heart failure, on November 5, 2015 the Interior Ministry of the Chilean government issued a statement acknowledging a Ministry document from March of that year indicating the government’s official position that “it was clearly possible and highly likely” that he was killed as a result of “the intervention of third parties”. Pinochet, backed by elements of the armed forces, denied permission for Neruda’s funeral to be made a public event. However, thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets.
“Not Only the Eskimos” by Lisel Mueller
Within the poem, Mueller delights in language and mouth-feel as she creates a list of the many personifications and associations we give to snowfall.
. . .in an old tale, the snow
that covers a nest of strawberries,
small hearts, ripe and sweet,
the special snow that goes with Christmas,
whether it falls or not,
the Russian snow we remember
along with the warmth and smell of furs,
though we have never traveled
to Russia or worn furs,
Villon’s snows of yesteryear,
lost with ladies gone out like matches,
the snow in Joyce’s “The Dead,”
the silent, secret snow
in a story by Conrad Aiken,
which is the snow of first love,
the snowfall between the child
and the spacewoman on TV,
. . .²
. . .A bit about Lisel Mueller . . .
Lisel Mueller (born February 8, 1924) was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1924. She has had a career both writing poetry and translating. She attended the University of Evansville and did her graduate study at Indiana University. She has taught at the University of Chicago, Elmhurst College, and Goddard College. She has also worked at as a social worker, a receptionist and a library assistant.A German-American poet. She won the U.S. National Book Award in 1981 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for Alive Together: New & Selected Poems.
Her other awards and honors include the Carl Sandburg Award, the Helen Bullis Award, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.
“Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken
In Mueller’s poem, “Not only the Eskimos,” the poet mentions “the silent, secret snow/
in a story by Conrad Aiken.”
If you’re looking for a pairing this week, here is that famous short story, “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken.
What do you make of this snow, and this little boy?
“Silent Snow, Secret Snow” (1934) is not only Conrad Aiken’s most anthologized work, but also one of the most widely read twentieth-century American short stories. The story concerns the degeneration of its protagonist, a young boy named Paul Hasleman, into madness. Critics often view this story in light of Aiken’s childhood, and search for autobiographical aspects to the work. Some interpret the story using a psychoanalytic framework; but it has been noted that the problem of the psychoanalytic interpretation is that it treats the events of the tale too clinically, diminishing the story’s emotional power.
It seems that a valid interpretation of “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” can neither avoid purely psychological issues—the theme of child-parent conflict, for example—nor justifiably ignore the realistic tragedy of a twelve-year-old boy’s world demolishedby madness.³
…….“Silent Snow, Secret Snow” is a short story centering on the thoughts of a twelve-year-old boy as he descends into a psychologically remote state. It was first published in The Virginia Quarterly Review in October 1932.
…….The story is set in an American town in the early decades of the twentieth century. The time of year is December.
Paul Hasleman is a twelve-year-old boy who becomes fixated on thoughts of snow.
During Miss Buell’s sixth-grade geography lesson, twelve-year-old Paul Hasleman indulges in the memory of a December morning a few days before when he awoke to sounds of the mailman tramping through snow. As the snow mounted, he thought, the world would become peaceful and more and more silent. But when he got out of bed and looked out the window, he saw sunlight and bare streets. He had imagined the muffled sound and the snow. Nevertheless, the comforting feeling that snow had fallen remains with him. His preoccupation with thoughts of snow distract his attention from activities around him.
The narrator tells the story in third-person point of view, presenting the thoughts of Paul Hasleman as he reacts to the external world and withdraws into his imaginary world. (Cumming Study Guides.)
“It was gentler here, softer, its seethe the quietest of whispers, as if, in deference to a drawing room, it had quite deliberately put on its ‘manners’; it kept itself out of sight, obliterated itself, but distinctly with an air of saying, ‘Ah, but just wait! Wait till we are alone together! Then I will begin to tell you something new! Something white! something cold! something sleepy! something of cease, and peace, and the long bright curve of space! Tell them to go away. Banish them. Refuse to speak. Leave them, go upstairs to your room, turn out the light and get into bed – I will go with you, I will be waiting for you, I will tell you a better story than Little Kay of the Skates, or The Snow Ghost – I will surround your bed, I will close the windows, pile a deep drift against the door, so that none will ever again be able to enter. Speak to them!…’ It seemed as if the little hissing voice came from a slow white spiral of falling flakes in the corner by the front window – but he could not be sure.”
(“Silent Snow, Secret Snow”)”
― Conrad Aiken,
. . .A bit about Conrad Aiken . . .
Negative, Conrad Aiken, (Paul Nash, The Tate Gallery) Pinterest.
¹This poem is difficult to track down.
² “Not Only the Eskimos” by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together, LSU Press; First edition (October 1, 1996)