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Winter -- Anonymous

Guest poem sent in by Dave Fortin
(Poem #1433) Winter
 Wind piercing, hill bare, hard to find shelter;
 Ford turns foul, lake freezes.
 A man could stand on a stalk.

 Wave on wave cloaks the land's edge;
 Shrill the shrieks from the peaks of the mountain;
 One can scarce stand outside.

 Cold the lake-bed from winter's blast;
 Dried reeds, stalk broken;
 Angry wind, woods stripped naked.

 Cold bed of fish beneath a screen of ice;
 Stag lean, stalks bearded;
 Short evening, trees bent over.

 Snow is falling, white the soil.
 Soldiers go not campaigning.
 Cold lakes, their color sunless.

 Snow is falling, white hoar-frost.
 Shield idle on an old shoulder.
 Wind intense, shoots are frozen.

 Snow is falling upon the ice.
 Wind is sweeping thick tree-tops.
 Shield bold on a brave shoulder.

 Snow is falling, cloaks the valley.
 Soldiers hasten to battle.
 I go not, a wound stays me.

 Snow is falling on the slope.
 Stallion confined; lean cattle.
 No summer day is today.

 Snow is falling, white the mountain's edge.
 Ship's mast bare at sea.
 A coward conceives many schemes.
-- Anonymous
The recent winter and snow related poems made me think of this one, from a
13th c. Welsh manuscript (but probably dates from the eleventh century or
earlier).  It's a reminder that winter meant much more than pretty snowflakes
and scenic landscapes in pre-industrial times.  To most folks winter was a
lean time, full of hardships.  I also like this poem as it has the sub-theme
of the wounded warrior who is stuck at home unable to fight while his supposed
friends fight a winter battle (or is he the scheming coward of the last
stanza?).  Like the Old English "Wanderer" and "Seafarer", the poet leaves us
guessing at what's going on, which is part of what makes this so intriguing.

This translation is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Poetry in English.  Just to
give a taste of the alliteration and rhyme schemes, here's the last three
stanzas in the original Middle Welsh:

Otid eiry, toid ystrad;
Dyfrysynt cedwyr i gad;
Mi nid af, anaf ni'm gad.

Otid eiry o du rhiw;
Carcharor gorwydd, cul biw;
Nid annwyd hafddydd heddiw.

Otid eiry, gwyn goror mynydd;
Llwm gwydd llong ar for;
Mecid llwfr llawer cyngor.

Dave Fortin

65 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Fred Simon said...

I really like this poem. There's something about the translation --
partly its spareness -- that makes it seem so modern despite its actual era.

-Fred Simon

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