More on snow:
(Poem #1430) Not only the Eskimos
Not only the Eskimos We have only one noun but as many different kinds: the grainy snow of the Puritans and snow of soft, fat flakes, guerrilla snow, which comes in the night and changes the world by morning, rabbinical snow, a permanent skullcap on the highest mountains, snow that blows in like the Lone Ranger, riding hard from out of the West, surreal snow in the Dakotas, when you can't find your house, your street, though you are not in a dream or a science-fiction movie, snow that tastes good to the sun when it licks black tree limbs, leaving us only one white stripe, a replica of a skunk, unbelievable snows: the blizzard that strikes on the tenth of April, the false snow before Indian summer, the Big Snow on Mozart's birthday, when Chicago became the Elysian Fields and strangers spoke to each other, paper snow, cut and taped, to the inside of grade-school windows, 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, snow as idea of whiteness, as in snowdrop, snow goose, snowball bush, the snow that puts stars in your hair, and your hair, which has turned to snow, the snow Elinor Wylie walked in in velvet shoes, the snow before her footprints and the snow after, the snow in the back of our heads, whiter than white, which has to do with childhood again each year.
From "Alive Together: New and Selected Poems", published 1996. Many poets have used multiplicity of meaning to lend ambiguity (and hopefully depth) to their poems, but rarely has the multiplicity itself been the subject of a poem. The danger here is that the poem descends into mere boring repetition, a shopping list of definitions. Fortunately for us, Ms Mueller avoids the pitfall adroitly, with unexpected metaphors ("rabbinical snow" is my favourite), literary and historical references, and (at the very end) an unabashed appeal to nostalgia. Notice how the descriptions become steadily more allusive as the poem goes on; this adds to the impact of what would otherwise have been a rather predictable ending. thomas. PS. The LINGUIST mailing list has this to say about the number of words meaning 'snow' in various Eskimo languages: http://www.ling.ed.ac.uk/linguist/issues/5/5-1239.html http://www.ling.ed.ac.uk/linguist/issues/5/5-1259.html