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Winter Evening -- Archibald Lampman

Posting this on Martin's behalf once again:
(Poem #873) Winter Evening
 To-night the very horses springing by
 Toss gold from whitened nostrils. In a dream
 The streets that narrow to the westward gleam
 Like rows of golden palaces; and high
 From all the crowded chimneys tower and die
 A thousand aureoles. Down in the west
 The brimming plains beneath the sunset rest,
 One burning sea of gold. Soon, soon shall fly
 The glorious vision, and the hours shall feel
 A mightier master; soon from height to height,
 With silence and the sharp unpitying stars,
 Stern creeping frosts, and winds that touch like steel,
 Out of the depth beyond the eastern bars,
 Glittering and still shall come the awful night.
-- Archibald Lampman
When I ran Lampman's "To a Millionaire", I mentioned his "highly atmospheric
and somewhat surreal 'scene' poems that wouldn't raise eyebrows in a fantasy
collection". Today's poem is an excellent example - while not intrinsically
'unnatural', the scene is presented in colours and perspectives that
heighten the sense of magic, and of distance in space and time, all the more
unreal for being overlaid on a superficially normal backdrop.

Like de la Mare's "Silver", "Winter Evening" uses colour as one of its main
notes, casting a wash of gold across the landscape, which sets the dreamlike
tone for the octet. (Compare Wordsworth's 'Westminster Bridge' for a
similarly evoked scene.) The sestet segues abruptly from 'gleam' to
'glitter', as the warm glow of evening is replaced by the cold, harsh grip
of night. The vision of night as a pitiless, inexorable invasion is
beautifully executed, reminding me in places of postapocalyptic sf, and for
much the same reason - there is an instinctive reaction to darkness and cold
as fearful and dangerous; something to be fought against, with the
omnipresent knowledge that it is only being staved off by a tenuous layer of
civilisation, like the wolf that waits just beyond the firelit circle.

And in the end, beautiful as the beginning of the poem is, it is the last
line that makes it truly memorable.

Afterthought:

 The poem reminds me of Clarke's 'The Forgotten Enemy' - the one about
 the Earth trapped in an encroaching ice age. Both for the imagery and
 for the ending.

Links:

  The one previous Lampman poem we've run on Minstrels, complete with
  biography and notes: poem #784

  de la Mare's 'Silver': poem #725

  Wordsworth's 'Westminster Bridge': poem #462

-martin.

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