Winter: Leave it or love it!
Enjoying winter so far? If you think the plunging temperatures, snow drifts and a wind-whipped face make it the most challenging season, you may be surprised to know some people prefer it to the non-chilly months.
Consider T.S. Eliot's musings from his 1922 poem, The Waste Land: "April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain." For Eliot, it was all about expectations, apparently.
That might explain why he praised winter as the season that "kept us warm, covering earth in forgetful snow."
Eliot, born in St. Louis, but who later moved to England, could afford to be romantic about earth's coldest offering. The British may lack central heating in many homes, but they rarely see the bone-chilling winters experienced on this side of the pond.
Thus, I imagine Eliot in a reading chair by a roaring fire, smoking, and gazing at snowflakes gently floating down the cobblestone streets, illuminated by opaque street lamps.
Winter has a bit more of an edge in Canada, even if we enjoy it.
It also forces practical choices that inform our habits year long. Most Canadians take their shoes off upon entering a home, both in January and July. It must seem odd to those who live in climates where such hardwood-and carpet-saving measures are unnecessary.
D.H. Lawrence had a view opposite that of Eliot's. The novelist, playwright, painter and critic apparently disliked fall, never mind the icier season that followed.
"I want to go south," he wrote in a 1924 letter to a friend, "where there is no autumn, where the cold doesn't crouch over one like a snow-leopard waiting to pounce."
No fan of northern regions, Lawrence painted the north with unflattering words: "The heart of the North is dead and the fingers of cold are corpse fingers."
The dead-man image might seem like rhetorical overkill, but to anyone who has endured -30 C weather for weeks without respite, it is almost as if Lawrence spent a winter in chinook-free Edmonton.
Perhaps it is an English poet "thing," but others from history's London literary set also disdained fall.
There is Matthew Arnold's 1857 Rugby Chapel: "Coldly, sadly descends, the autumn evening."
One century later, this anti-autumn theme continued in Doris Lessing's irritation with the shoulder season. From her 1952 novel, Martha Quest: "What of October, that ambiguous month, the month of tension, the unendurable month?"
The Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin had a short but productive writing life; he arrived in this world in 1799 and left it in 1837. While around, Pushkin placed autumn in a more proper context, as the precursor to the inevitable harsh winter that rolls in, in Russia's case, from Siberia.
"A tedious season they await, who hear November at the gate," wrote the liberal poet. Pushkin was once exiled from Moscow to (warmer) Crimea by an autocratic czar; he was lucky it wasn't Siberia, the usual end point for Russian dissidents in every century.
Christina Rossetti, she of Italian and English lineage, and who in the 19th century wrote religious, romantic and children's works, offered up clarity about the frostiest season's effect upon the natural world. From an 1875 poem: "In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone."
William Shakespeare also wrote of winter's weighing on our homes, goods and even our moods. In Love's Labour Lost, the bard remarked of how "icicles hang by the wall," where "milk comes frozen home in pail" and how our "ways (manners) be foul."
Back to the winter romantics: Everyone knows Irving Berlin's famous 1942 song. The famous line: "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know."
A memo to Berlin, who died in 1989: In Western Canada at least, Mother Nature just granted your wish.
Mark Milke, Calgary Herald, A12, December 23, 2017