being human, Carol Ann Duffy, Costa Poetry Award, death and life, gifts from death, identity, life as gift, Mary Oliver, nature as guide, nature as mirror, seasons of life, self-reflection, the dead and the living
Then all the dead opened their cold palms
and released the snow; slow, slant, silent,
a huge unsaying, it fell, torn language, settled;
the world to be locked, local; unseen,
fervent earthbound bees around a queen.
The river grimaced and was ice.
Go nowhere — thought the dead, using the snow —
but where you are, offering the flower of your breath
to the white garden, or seeds to birds
from your living hand. You cannot leave.
Tighter and tighter, the beautiful snow
holds the land in its fierce embrace.
It is like death, but it is not death; lovelier.
Cold, inconvenienced, late, what will you do now
with the gift of your left life?
“What will you do now?” (And, umm . . . Who are you, again? Remind me, please . . . ) The hand of death in our lives practically forces us to do what we often avoid in less difficult times; its palm signals: Whoa! . . . just . . . STOP. . . . And over a more or less extended period, reflect deeply on your life: on its meaning for you, and on how you’re spending the time you’re granted here. The cocooning, muting effect of the snowfall is an intense and tender benefaction, a captivating invitation to stillness and awareness.
The last two lines of the poem seem to deliberately echo the query concluding Mary Oliver‘s “The Summer Day”, coming now nearly a quarter-century later and in a new millennium, from across an ocean and with the Earth near the opposite vertex of its annual journey around the Sun . . . to touch a further generation of beholders / dreamers of the natural world; and to link us across time and space, even all places and all times.
Like the previous poem by Carol Ann Duffy selected here (“The Bee Carol”, two posts back), “Snow” is from the poet’s 2011 collection The Bees; this book won the Costa Poetry Award for that year. (Previous to 2006, the Costa Awards were called the Whitbread Book Awards; Duffy received this award in 1993.) Duffy teaches Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, and is Creative Director of its Writing School; she has held the post of Poet Laureate of Britain since 2009. Her poetry is diverse in its subject matter and approachable, richly imagined, impeccably crafted.