Saturday, February 20, 2016

Snow / John Davidson (III-V)


Jewelled shapes of snow whose feathery showers,
     Fallen or falling wither at a breath,
All afraid are they, and loth as flowers
     Beasts and men to tread the way to death.

Once I saw upon an object-glass,
     Martyred underneath a microscope,
One elaborate snow-flake slowly pass,
     Dying hard, beyond the reach of hope.

Still from shape to shape the crystal changed,
     Writhing in its agony; and still,
Less and less elaborate, arranged
     Potently the angle of its will.

Tortured to a simple final form,
     Angles six and six divergent beams,
Lo, in death it touched the perfect norm
     Verifying all its crystal dreams!


Such the noble tragedy of one
     Martyred snow-flake. Who can tell the fate
Heinous and uncouth of showers undone,
     Fallen in cities!– showers that expiate

Errant lives from polar worlds adrift
     Where the great millennial snows abide;
Castaways from mountain-chains that lift
     Snowy summits in perennial pride;

Nomad snows, or snows in evil day
     Born to urban ruin, to be tossed,
Trampled, shovelled, ploughed and swept away
     Down the seething sewers: all the frost

Flowers of heaven melted up with lees,
     Offal, recrement, but every flake
Showing to the last in fixed degrees
     Perfect crystals for the crystal's sake.


Usefulness of snow is but a chance
     Here in temperate climes with winter sent,
Sheltering earth's prolonged hibernal trance:
     All utility is accident.

Sixty clear degrees the joyful snow,
     Practising economy of means,
Fashions endless beauty in, and so
     Glorifies the universe with scenes

Arctic and antarctic: stainless shrouds,
     Ermine woven in silvery frost, attire
Peaks in every land among the clouds
     Crowned with snows to catch the morning's fire.

John Davidson (1857-1909)
from Fleet Street, and other poems, 1909
[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

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