Winter Remembered (John Crowe Ransom)

February 10, 2009

Two evils, monstrous either one apart,
Possessed me, and were long and loath at going:
A cry of Absence, Absence, in the heart,
And in the wood the furious winter blowing.

Think not, when fire was bright upon my bricks,
And past the tight boards hardly a wind could enter,
I glowed like them, the simple burning sticks,
Far from my cause, my proper heat and center.

Better to walk forth in the frozen air
And wash my wound in the snows; that would be healing;
Because my heart would throb less painful there,
Being caked with cold, and past the smart of feeling.

And where I walked, the murderous winter blast
Would have this body bowed, these eyeballs streaming,
And though I think this heart’s blood froze not fast
It ran too small to spare one drop for dreaming.

Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,
And tied our separate forces first together,
Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,
Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.

John Crowe Ransom is among a school of poets popularly called the “Fugitives,” a collective of writers who taught at Vanderbilt around the 1920s, and who met regularly to share meals, poems, and intellectual banter. Mark Van Doren describes the group’s origin and development best when he wrote, “I am convinced that the way taken by the Fugitives toward poetry is one of the best ways…it is the way of friendship and discussion; it is the way of the amateur society.” Art through conviviality.

“Winter Remembered” exhibits as well as any the precision of Ransom’s craft. While his fidelity to rhyme and meter may be unfashionable today, his wide ranging subject matter (Randall Jarrell affectionately said that Ransom’s poems are about “everything from Armageddon to a dead hen”), commitment to craft, and his genius for combining formalism with a deep affection for the local, give enduring credibility to his reputation. Read him. He’s damn good. And I love that he said this: “With a serious poet each minor poem may be a symbol of a major decision. It is as ranging and comprehensive an action as the mind has ever tried.”

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