The twenty-sixth of November, 2010: the weather outside is frightful

I’ve been trying to decide on a favourite piece of snow writing to mark the onset of a so-far-very-white winter.

I really like Dickens’ description of Londoners shovelling snow (“they stood in the city streets on Christmas morning, where (for the weather was severe) the people made a rough but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the pavement”), but I’ll no doubt be returning to A Christmas Carol later in the season. And I also love John Hegley’s account of his dad doing the same thing: “Swinging his shovel, swishing his broom, lifting the snow, shifting the snow, making sure he doesn’t do any of the next-door neighbour’s bit.”

Then there’s Robert Frost and Edward Thomas (the superior English version of Robert Frost). Frost’s snow stuff is pretty well-known: Desert  Places begins with “snow falling and night falling, fast, oh, fast”, and proceeds to:

“And lonely as it is that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less –

A blanker whiteness of benighted snow

With no expression, nothing to express.”

His Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening has been even more thoroughly anthologised.

As for Thomas, he might be England’s greatest poet of nature and melancholy, but snow didn’t bring out the best in him. All that comes to mind are the mannered rhymes of Out In The Dark (“Out in the dark, over the snow/The fallow fawns invisible go/With the fallow doe;/And the winds blow/Fast as the stars are slow.”).

So I’ll go instead with a passage that’s as optimistic as Dickens and as tragic as Thomas (killed at Arras, Easter 1917):

“It is always rather dismal work walking over the great snow plain when sky and surface merge in one pall of dead whiteness, but it is cheering to be in such good company with everything going on steadily and well.”

That’s from Captain Scott’s diary entry of the twenty-sixth of November, 1911.


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