While snows the window panes bedim

Snow hasn’t arrived here in the west yet,so our window panes haven’t yet been bedimmed,  but there are plenty of places it has been seen. Nor has it been so consistently cold that it really feels like winter – wintry, but not real winter yet. However, decorations are going up around the village, and as I sit here I can see the village hall decked with twinkling lights, and the Christmas tree outside it is beautifully decorated.

Here is some more verses from John Clare’s December entry in his Shepherd’s Calendar:

The block behind the fire is put
To sanction customs old desires
And many a faggots bands are cut
For the old farmers Christmas fires
Where loud tongd gladness joins the throng
And winter meets the warmth of may
Feeling by times the heat too strong
And rubs his shins and draws away

While snows the window panes bedim
The fire curls up a sunny charm
Where creaming oer the pitchers rim
The flowering ale is set to warm
Mirth full of joy as summer bees
Sits there its pleasures to impart
While childern tween their parents knees
Sing scraps of carrols oer by heart

And some to view the winter weathers
Climb up the window seat wi glee
Likening the snow to falling feathers
In fancys infant extacy
Laughing wi superstitious love
Oer visions wild that youth supplyes
Of people pulling geese above
And keeping christmass in the skyes

As tho the homstead trees were drest
In lieu of snow wi dancing leaves
As. tho the sundryd martins nest
Instead of ides hung the eaves
The childern hail the happy day
As if the snow was april grass
And pleasd as neath the warmth of may
Sport oer the water froze to glass

Winter’s ragged hand

As wnter approaches, here’s a sonnet by the master: here’s Shakespeare looking back and looking forward.

 Sonnet 6

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface,
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thy self to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thy self were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir

William Shakespeare

The stars are glittering in the frosty sky

From last year… beautiful…

I had never come across Charles Heavysege, the Yorkshire born Canadian poet and dramatist until recently. He was born in Huddersfield, I town I know quite well, in 1816. He and his family emigrated to Canada in the 1850’s and eventually worked as a reporter and then editor. here is his sonnet about the sort of winter night we haven’t had many of, haven’t had enough of of these last few months!

Winter Skies

The stars are glittering in the frosty sky,
Numerous as pebbles on a broad sea-coast;
And o’er the vault the cloud-like galaxy
Has marshalled its innumerable host.
Alive all heaven seems! with wondrous glow
Tenfold refulgent every star appears,
As if some wide, celestial gale did blow,
And thrice illume the ever-kindled spheres.
Orbs, with glad orbs rejoicing, burning, beam
Ray-crowned, with lambent lustre in their zones,
Till o’er the blue, bespangled spaces seem
Angels and great archangels on their thrones;
A host divine, whose eyes are sparkling gems,
And forms more bright than diamond diadems.

 Charles Heavysege  1816 – 1876


Lost in the snow and hidden water…

Here’s a wintry episode from my novel Lucky Portbraddon.

Ismène and her hew boyfriend James are travelling to his grandmother’s house up on the moors to spend Christmas with his family.  The weather is atrocious, snowing so hard there is almost no visibility; they have just turned into the long drive heading up to the remote house when the car skids off the road. They are sliding down a bank towards a large pond when fortunately the car stalls. They decide to abandon it and climb up to the track and walk to the house.

James was shouting something but the wind swallowed his words. On hands and feet they slipped and scrambled up the bank. Creeping along the main roads, Ismène had described it as a white-out, now it was a grey-out, the light leaving what had been the day.

James pulled her upright and for a moment they clung together. He started to say something, but there was a sudden tremendous buffeting gust and they tumbled into a drift. She floundered in the snow, blinded and lost, screaming his name. Her mouth was full of snow but she knew he must have slid down towards the pond! The pond!

Afterwards she wondered how she’d had the courage, but it was pure instinct. She stumbled after him, past the mound that was the car, its door open, the light on.

He was lying face down, arms outstretched above his head as if he’d been trying to save himself as he slithered down the bank. Only his top half was visible, his legs were under the smashed ice of the water.

She grasped him under the arms and tried to heave him out but she only succeeded in nearly toppling herself in. Shouting his name she tried to rouse him; he thrashed his legs as if trying to swim and she heaved again and pulled him a foot from the water.

Later she couldn’t remember how long she’d struggled, it seemed like one long recurring nightmare…

In this bitter cold and in their light clothes there was a real danger of something serious happening, something as serious as… death. Hysteria took hold and she began to giggle uncontrollably – something as serious as death! She was shaking with laughter and James seemed to be laughing too but of course he wasn’t, he was shivering with cold.

 Ismène shouted at him, hitting his shoulders, trying to wake him to make more effort to help himself. She struggled and pulled, moving him by mere inches.

“James, I can’t do this! I’m going to the house to get help!”

She didn’t know how far away it was but she began to crawl up towards the road. She glanced back and James was gone. She slithered down and straight into the water; it was only knee deep and warm and he was floating face down.  She grabbed him, adrenalin kicking in and she heaved him onto his back and hauled him up the bank.

She began to cry… She couldn’t leave him, he was unconscious, he’d die, freeze or drown… But if she stayed she’d die too. She lost track of time… a few minutes… hours? It was completely dark now…

In a rage she began to hit him, thumping him with her fists, yelling at him. This is ridiculous! I don’t want to die! It’s Christmas!

“Help!! Someone!! Help!!” she screamed.

She pulled at James again and moved him a few inches but she could no longer feel her hands and feet, her limbs seemed strange attachments no longer belonging to her. Her thoughts were slowing and she couldn’t think of what to do. She tried to be logical, snow piling thickly on her shoulders and head… soon she’d be invisible. The light from the car veiled in snow was fading… Someone passing wouldn’t even see them, see the small mounds in the snow.

If I stay here I’m going to die. James is going to die anyway, but I’ll die with him… If only I can get to the house …

Tears began to trickle, warm, then cold, then icy…

She pulled at James again; if she could just get him out of the water, wedge him safely somehow… but it was hopeless.  Ismène stood and immediately fell over, got to her feet and screamed for help… then sunk back to James who had slipped again.

They’d met on a night out with mutual friends… Instant attraction, instant relationship, instant love? Did she love James? No, actually, but maybe one day…

She was very weak now and becoming sleepy. She tried to take James beneath the arms with the blocks of wood she knew were her hands… She pulled him but could no longer tell whether she was shifting him. The ice on the surface of the pond was covered with snow falling relentlessly in feathery lumps.

 Ismène yelled again but her voice was tiny… There was a rabbit in a clown’s costume. But it was a dream, a delusion… A dog wandered around looking for its head, glasses perched on the end of its curly tail.

People were singing… People… There were people.

“Help! Help me!!”

And there were snowmen walking across the pond, they were playing music or maybe they were just singing ‘Last Christmas’… It would be her last Christmas….

 Ismène was hallucinating, and she knew it. She bent her face to James but couldn’t feel his skin against hers, her cheeks and nose and mouth numb. Was he unconscious? Was he dead? How could it happen so quickly?

Oh for fuck’s sake if I’m going to die let me die now, don’t drag out this misery! She shouted, or maybe the words were only in her head. If she slid into the water… She was no longer cold, there was no pain… James slipped an inch and somehow she dragged him back.

The snowmen were back, walking through the night towards her, still singing…

One of the snowmen was bending down, brushing snow from her face, lifting her into his arms… But it wasn’t a snowman, it was Orson Welles.

Then more people were with her and lifting her and carrying her up to a warm car. She tried to say something about James, tell them about James, but her voice was frozen in her throat.

If you want to know what happens next, here’s a link:



O Autumn, laden with fruit

When the nights creep  in earlier and earlier and we draw the curtains and turn on or light the fires, that’s when reading poems is most satisfying – especially if it’s cold and nipsome outside. Autumn is slipping away and winter is approaching, but the trees are still stunning especially when the sun catches bronze and golden leaves and crimson fruit and berries… And this is what we think of snuggled in at home with the dark and the cold outside, we think of the lovely days we’ve had with the splendid turn of season colours.

Here’s a poem by William Blake:

To Autumn

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

William Blake1757 – 1827

The month of carnival

The air has changed… it’s not just that tonight was cold, a clear sky and a frostiness about, something in the quality has changed – autumn to winter.  We were walking out at about 9:30 and it was almost a scent, almost the feel of the night on our cheeks and noses… the air has changed.

After tonight there will only be one more day of October, so here is something from Helen Hunt Jackson who was born this month one hundred and eighty-seven years ago:

A Calendar Of Sonnets: October 

The month of carnival of all the year,
When Nature lets the wild earth go its way,
And spend whole seasons on a single day.
The spring-time holds her white and purple dear;
October, lavish, flaunts them far and near;
The summer charily her reds doth lay
Like jewels on her costliest array;
October, scornful, burns them on a bier.
The winter hoards his pearls of frost in sign
Of kingdom: whiter pearls than winter knew,
Oar empress wore, in Egypt’s ancient line,
October, feasting ‘neath her dome of blue,
Drinks at a single draught, slow filtered through
Sunshiny air, as in a tingling wine!

Helen Hunt Jackson: 1830-1885

The pale splendour of the winter sun

Many people think children miss out on experiencing the natural world, especially in winter,  cocooned from the elements, hustled from one centrally heated environment and into cars and buses, and then hurried inside another.

This lovely little poem by John Clare makes the children’s journey to school in winter sound idyllic, watching wild geese, nibbling on hedgerow fruit, hips, haws and sloes, and perhaps shooing the fieldfares away to do so. When it was icy in our school playground when I was a child, there was an area where we would make slides, ‘making glib slides‘, Clare says. You can imagine them suddenly thinking they might be late and running along with the low, pale sun making their shadows huge against the white snow. We might not know what clumpsing means, but we can understand it!

There must have been, in reality, plenty of times when going to school in winters past was miserable and probably dangerous too. What was termed the Little Ice Age lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century, and the River Thames frost fairs – when the river froze so solidly fairs were held on the icy surface – continued until 1814 when John Clare was twenty-one.

However, this poem is the stuff of jolly Christmas cards, maybe romantic, but certainly vivid!

Schoolboys in Winter

The schoolboys still their morning ramble take
To neighbouring village school with playing speed,
Loitering with pastime’s leisure till they quake,
Oft looking up the wild-geeese droves to heed,
Watching the letters which their journeys make;
Or plucking haws on which the fieldfares feed,
And hips and sloes; and on each shallow lake
Making glib slides, where they like shadows go
Till some fresh pastimes in their minds awake.
Then off they start anew and hasty blow
Their numbed and clumpsing fingers till they glow;
Then races with their shadows wildly run
That stride huge giants o’er the shining snow
In the pale splendour of the winter sun.

John Clare