Week Forty-Four: two poems about snow and “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken



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.


Pablo Neruda

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.[6] 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



Our second poem is based on the experience of a Berlin winter from a poet born in Hamburg, Germany. Mueller’s “Not Only the Eskimos” is a wonderful poem about language in general and snow in particular. As the poem begins, “We have only one noun/but as many different kinds.” 
What is your favorite kind of snow?

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 Muelle

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”



“Silent Snow, Secret Snow” adaptation for television (Rod Serling’s Night Gallery)


“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, Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural


. . .A bit about Conrad Aiken . . .



Negative, Conrad Aiken, (Paul Nash, The Tate Gallery) Pinterest.

An excellent biography of Aiken exists online at The Poetry Foundation. Please take time to read it, HERE.





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)



Week Twenty Seven: Two Poems by Ted Kooser

“Applesauce” and “So this is Nebraska”




Let’s starts out with a poem which surely marks the changing of the seasons . . .a poem about canning. It’s “Applesauce,” by the fabulous Ted Kooser, from his marvelous collection Delights and Shadows  (winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.)  Enjoy.

You can read Kooser’s poem here!


“So this is Nebraska”

How does the warmth and intimacy of the microcosm of the old kitchen (governed by the stars and navigated by the sailboats on the woman’s apron) compare with the expansiveness of our second poem, “So this is Nebraska?”

What do the two poems have in common?

Read Kooser’s second poem here!

The poem is part of Kooser’s collection, Sure Signs.

. . .A bit about Ted Kooser . . .


Born April 25, 1939, in Ames, Iowa, Ted Kooser attended Iowa State University (B.S. 1962), and the University of Nebraska (M.A. 1968).Ted_Kooser

In 2006 he completed his second and final term as U. S. Poet Laureate and since then has continued to spend much of his time as a public spokesperson for poetry.  He’s currently a Presidential Professor at The University of Nebraska, teaching the writing of poetry.


Ted Kooser’s poetry has been collected in a number of full-length volumes and special editions and has appeared in many literary periodicals. A number of his poems appear in textbooks and anthologies currently in use in secondary school and college classrooms.

Kooser is also the editor of a weekly newspaper column, “American Life in Poetry,” which is carried in over 150 newspapers and is available online at http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org. It is jointly sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department, The Library of Congress and the Poetry Foundation. Distribution of the column has continued to grow despite the problems in the newspaper industry and many readers now receive it via email. It, too, is being used in classrooms. The column has an estimated circulation of three and a half million readers around the world.

Check out more from Ted Kooser at his website.



And for those of you interested in writing and the poetry writing process in terms of real-world elements of craft, please check out The Poetry Home Repair Manual.



Week Nine: “Bird” and “Of Power and Time” by Mary Oliver and Selected Poems

“Bird” by Mary Oliver

Discovering Mary Oliver’s poetry leaves one with the same breathless wonder felt as a child waking up on the first morning of a delicious vacation at a summer cottage. There will be everything to explore ; there will be the fields, the woods, the rock beach, the meadows.

There will be all of it, laying ahead of you in sun and shadow.

The poet Stanley Kunitz once said, “Mary Oliver’s poetry is fine and deep; it reads like a blessing. Her special gift is to connect us with our sources in the natural world, its beauties and terrors and mysteries and consolations.”

Indeed, much of Oliver’s writing deals with the outdoors and with a grand, vital celebration of life.

Yet within this celebration the author often turns her considerable talents inward to contemplate mortality. Certainly she’s explored this with great mastery in works such as “Poem for the Anniversary” and many others.

Here for your consideration today is Oliver’s brief essay entitled “Bird.”

“Bird” is from Oliver’s latest essay collection, Upstream (note: in some earlier publications such as this magazine excerpt, it was called “The Christmas Bird”.) The selection was suggested by Wonderlings book club member Shabnam Mirchandani. Enjoy! Have you visited Upstream?

“Of Power and Time”

Another brief glimpse into Mary Oliver’s collection, Upstream can be had in this week’s second selection, the essay “Of Power and Time.” Here, Oliver discusses the charge given to artists who would be both in creative space and of the world at large. Do you work creatively? If so, how do you carve out time and space to honor this? And let’s explore this question: must we venture into a wild place to create true art?

Here is “Of Power and Time” by Mary Oliver.

Two Poems

As supplemental reading to Oliver’s essay collection, it’s worthwhile to explore any one of her many, fine poetry collections (the reading and discussion of these could fill the syllabus of a college course for several years).

If you are new to her poetry, here is an excellent starting place: “Why I Wake Early,” read by the author:

And “Morning” (from New and Selected Poems, Volume One, Beacon Press, 1992):


A bit about Mary Oliver . . .


Mary Oliver has received many honors for her poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Award

A private person by nature, Oliver has given very few interviews over the years. Instead, she prefers to let her work speak for itself. And speak it has, for the past five decades, to countless readers. The New York Times recently acknowledged Mary Oliver as “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” Born in a small town in Ohio, Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28; No Voyage and Other Poems, originally printed in the UK by Dent Press, was reissued in the United States in 1965 by Houghton Mifflin. Oliver has since published many works of poetry and prose (the complete list appears below).

As a young woman, Oliver studied at Ohio State University and Vassar College, but took no degree. She lived for several years at the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in upper New York state, companion to the poet’s sister Norma Millay. It was there, in the late ’50s, that she met photographer Molly Malone Cook. For more than forty years, Cook and Oliver made their home together, largely in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they lived until Cook’s death in 2005.

Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Oliver has received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She has also received the Shelley Memorial Award; a Guggenheim Fellowship; an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Achievement Award; the Christopher Award and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award for House of Light; the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems; a Lannan Foundation Literary Award; and the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence.

Oliver’s essays have appeared in Best American Essays 1996, 1998, 2001; the Anchor Essay Annual 1998, as well as Orion, Onearth and other periodicals. Oliver was editor of Best American Essays 2009.

Oliver’s books on the craft of poetry, A Poetry Handbook and Rules for the Dance, are used widely in writing programs. She is an acclaimed reader and has read in practically every state as well as other countries. She has led workshops at various colleges and universities, and held residencies at Case Western Reserve University, Bucknell University, University of Cincinnati, and Sweet Briar College. From 1995, for five years, she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College. She has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from The Art Institute of Boston (1998), Dartmouth College (2007) and Tufts University (2008). Oliver currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the inspiration for much of her work.

(official biography from Oliver’s web site)


For further enrichment:


Walden Pond, Morning

In her writing and interviews, the writer Mary Oliver often acknowledges her stylistic and inspirational indebtedness to several well-known male authors of New England/Early America; Whitman, Poe, Emerson and Thoreau . . .

Indeed, Oliver’s collection Upstream mentions these iconic Transcendentalist authors often and lovingly.
Similarly, in his Wonderlings interview, the wilderness guide and “Marginalia” author Michael Engelhard also recommended reading Thoreau for inspiration.
In particular, this essay, “Walking” (Engelhard actually emailed it to us as a “PS” to his interview.)

Thoreau wrote “Walking” toward the very end of his life, as a visionary explication of the “absolute freedom and wildness.” Per Thoreau, one needs “wild and dusky knowledge” more than lettered learning. Thoreau undercuts the notion of “Useful Knowledge,” preferring instead “Useful Ignorance” or “Beautiful Knowledge.”
It seems fitting to pair it here, as Oliver echoes some of these same sentiments in her work.
The work, while long, is conveniently divided into manageable sections which can be enjoyed as mini-passages or all at once as you wish. Enjoy this peripatetic read . . .

Also try this link from The Atlantic

The Complete Works of Mary Oliver


No Voyage and Other Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1965)
The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (Harcourt Brace, 1972)
Twelve Moons (Little, Brown, 1979)
American Primitive (Little, Brown, 1983)
Dream Work (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986)
House of Light (Beacon Press, 1990)
New and Selected Poems, Volume One (Beacon Press, 1992)
White Pine (Harcourt Brace, 1994)
West Wind (Houghton Mifflin,1997)
The Leaf and the Cloud (Da Capo, 2000)
What Do We Know (Da Capo, 2002)
Owls and Other Fantasies (Beacon Press, 2003)
Why I Wake Early (Beacon Press, 2004)
Blue Iris (Beacon Press, 2004)
Wild Geese (Bloodaxe, 2004) (UK)
New and Selected Poems, Volume Two (Beacon Press, 2005)
Thirst (Beacon Press, 2006)
Red Bird (Beacon Press, 2008)
The Truro Bear and Other Adventures (Beacon Press, 2008)
Evidence (Beacon Press, 2009)
Swan (Beacon Press, 2010)

Chapbooks and Special Editions

The Night Traveler (Bits Press, 1978)
Sleeping in the Forest (Ohio Review, 1978)
Provincetown (Bucknell University Press, 1980)


A Poetry Handbook (Harcourt Brace, 1994)
Blue Pastures (Harcourt Brace, 1995)
Rules for the Dance (Houghton Mifflin, 1998)
Winter Hours (Houghton Mifflin, 1999)
Long Life (Da Capo, 2004)
Our World, with photographs by Molly Malone Cook (Beacon Press, 2007)


At Blackwater Pond (Beacon Press, 2005)
Many Miles (Beacon Press, 2010)


Mary Oliver’s page at the Poetry Foundation
Mary Oliver at Poets.org
Mary Oliver fan page on Facebook