The Bigness of Small Poems # 34 in a Series – Winter Solstice – Winter Poems by Sarah, MacLeod, Lane, Crozier


Winter Solstice, Stonehenge, December 21st, 2016. Photo Credit: Toby Melville, Reuters.


A sly gift it is, that on the year’s
shortest day, the sun
stays longest in this house –

extends the wand of its slow
slant and distant squint
farthest into the long depths

of our wintry rooms – to touch with
tremulous light, interior places
it has not lit before.

Robyn Sarah from From Questions About the Stars, Brick Books, 1998

With thanks to Mary Ann Moore, member of the active Nanaimo poetry community, for posting this poem today to mark the winter solstice. The poem’s author, Montreal-based Canadian poet Robyn Sarah, winner of the 2015 Governor General’s Award for Poetry. I have included an image of Stonehenge’s stone circle, created precisely so that its main sight line is aligned with the sunset at the winter solstice. How did our ancients do it? Amazing.

Sarah’s poem, a delicate gem. Bridging opposites, deftly. The beauty of paradox. Shortest day, least light and yet. And yet. What light it has, angled so low, can reach the darkest places, not lit before. Perhaps like the dark moments in our lives when somehow from somewhere a light of awareness breaks in.

I dedicate this poem to Donnie, a friend of mine looking for an inspiring poem after some difficult days in this dark time. I hope she enjoys this sly gift. And I thank Mary Ann and Donnie for inspiring me to find some other poems on winter to acknowledge today, winter’s first this year, 2017. Here is the first of three small winter poems, this one, by Edmonton-based poet Heather Macleod from a chapbook anthology of winter poems by Barbarian Press of B.C.:

 Peaceful as a House of Snow

Nothing can be hidden in winter
there is nothing
which can withstand the light of snow.

So when you ask if I will marry you,
I choose a month in winter,
and when I imagine our babies,

I see a boy child first and tell you, in bed
snow coming down, that I wish to call him Solomon,
which means, I know you know, as you know,

as you must know, peaceful as a house of snow.

Heather Simeney MacLeod from Stories of Snow – Poems for Winter, Barbarian Press,  2012

A lovely echo in the reference to light in this poem, from Sarah’s poem. And again, also, paradox. Inside the bright light of snow, inside snow coming down a poem of love, marriage and birth. The warmth of that. And this out of the ordinariness: to choose a month in winter in which to be married. And in which to have a child. For me, an out of the ordinary, unexpected poem.

From the light of winter and its unexpected gifts in the previous two poems, Canadian poet Patrick Lane gives us another take on winter but not its light, instead, its sound, its cold, its emptiness. And the spell winter casts, another paradox: to remember by forgetting everything.

Winter 5

The sound of winter is made up of all
the things not there. That is what north means,
to remember by forgetting everything. It is
precisely the same as someone
knocking on the door with a tentative fist.
It is delicate, muffled by leather and wool,
a muted sound he does not hear, perfectly.

Patrick Lane from Winter, Coteau Books, 1990

After Lane, now Canadian poet Lorna Crozier! Not just paired here in my post but also in life. Lane is the husband of Crozier who over the years, like Lane, has celebrated winter and the metaphors inspired by winter in countless poems. Here is Crozier’s wonderfully complex poem, itself a great example of the excellence in the small:


Winter: eat the little, talk a lot
that’s magpie’s definition.

Tears freeze on the cheeks and
never fall. This is cold not sadness.

Somewhere warmer, Vallejo said
we must learn

a different way of weeping. For now,
the old way will have to do.

Lorna Crozier from The Blue Hour of the Day, McClelland & Stewart, 2007

Such bigness in four small poems! Happy Solstice. The first day of winter and paradoxically the start of the climb out of darkness into spring and summer.


  1. Leona
    Posted December 22, 2017 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Thanks Richard for all the posts you share each one is like receiving a gift

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted December 22, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Leona: So glad to hear from you! Sending a big Christmas hug your way. I am so glad you read and enjoy these blog posts. They have become a spiritual practice for me. And one I am able to share with others. Hope our paths cross in 2018!

  3. Nan Goodship
    Posted December 22, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Richard, I’m enjoying getting your notes. Good to have poetry coming in amongst the other stuff. It could infiltrate life, or thoughts about life and turn some of the other massive problematic emails that come in with a twist of humanity. And what a great way to notice Solstice.

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted December 22, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Oh Nan. Thank you. I feel so encouraged when I hear back through the ether that a blog post has landed safely on or near a reader’s heart! Merry Christmas dear friend.

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