Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Winter writing

So my brief foray into Old English in my last post has me reminiscing on my time in uni.  Now you have to understand, I *loved* the academic world.  Could've quite happily spent my life being a professional student and I think I might've made a fairly good slightly-insane professor.  I could see myself doing that.  And I particularly enjoyed my arts courses.  But, I failed in that I could never argue with the sincerity that my colleagues seemed to feel.  The cynical side of me always felt that maybe, just maybe, there was no deeper meaning to the words on the page and the words written meant well - exactly what they said.  That is definitely not an acceptable belief for a grad student.  hahaha oops.  I remember one of my honours undergrad profs pulling me aside after a lecture and questioning me because I would switch sides in the middle of the debate.  He said I would argue so passionately and so well for one side and then ten minutes later be on the other side.  And while he was fairly amused at this he didn't understand what I was doing; evidently most students actually * believe* the stuff they were arguing.  hahaha Imagine that *g*  So I told him I argued for whoever was losing.  To me, that was the challenge -- to defend the indefensible position and make it stick.  But if I stuck it too well the other side would begin to lose so I'd have to help them out.  But I never could get truly passionate about what somebody - who invariably had been dead for centuries - "really meant".  I did, however, get really good at making stuff up.

And since this is on my mind and I really can't sleep (trust me, I'd much rather be dreaming right now!), I thought I'd give it a go again - for old time's sake.  So strictly for my own entertainment, I'm going to run an analysis of one of my favourite poems.  I strongly recommend you stop reading now.

The poem is entitled "Winter" and is written (or at least attributed to) Abigail McIntyre.  It floats around the internet this time of year every year.  It also usually has some sort of lead in about "I'm sending you this lovely winter poem that might be of some comfort to you..."  Sometimes the lead-in goes on for a while, but you get the idea.  Here this work of art is in its entirety:

SHIT.  It's Cold!

The end.


Now the average person might conclude that the author had a rather limited vocabulary and disliked winter.  But the English major in me suggests there's so much more to this that needs to be explored.   Let's start at the beginning shall we?

Winter.  That sets the stage for so much.  Winter is the end of all things; particularly in such brilliant literature.  It's dark, grey, depressing, cold.  The leaves are gone, the flowers resting or dead.  There are no birds chirping out side.  The only sound is the wind howling.  With the title the poet brilliantly sets the scene for a narrator at the end of his days, one who is being chased by death and and has no recourse against it.

This is eloquently proven by the use of the crude "shit" as the first word - particularly with the added emphasis of capital letters.  Whether the summary of his life to date, or a commentary of his current situation, the diction tells us so much.  Old age -- particularly for those of little means, which the narrator's choice of vocabulary suggests as it reflects a lower social economic sphere -- is not a pleasant experience.  His friends are dying off around him and he can feel his own end encroaching.  He cannot do anything to stop or influence this, nor can he go back and alter the choices which have ultimately lead him to this unfortunate situation.  The winter wind (death of course) howls outside, seeking him.  He has nobody to help him.  His life is, and always has been, essentially, shit.

It's.  It is.  What is?  Life of course - life is shit.  Or at least so the narrator portrays.  This has answered the question raised in the previous paragraph -- are we looking back at an unfortunate history, or lamenting a despicable present.  "Is" puts us quite firmly in the present.  Miserable and unhappy, our narrator's current situation is so unbearable its crudity even warrants being capitalized.

"Cold!" continues to reinforce the themes that have been previously introduced.  One could argue that this is redundant since cold is implied by the use of "winter" earlier.  But given the diction, one must assume the author is writing for an uneducated audience and so forgive the repetition.  Death is cold.  In the winter of his life the narrator feels the cold creeping in.  There is no longing to escape it expressed here, instead the narrator seems rather resigned to his fate.  There is no hope.  And as though that were not sufficient to alert the reader to the narrator's misery, the exclamation mark serves to emphasize the horror of his situation.

And when one reaches the winter of ones life with no warmth or hope, they find themselves at "the end."  So simple, yet so saddening.  This concluding stanza with its unrelenting period, finalizes the narrator's story as ineloquently as it began.  It leaves no room for hope of change; it is, simply, the end.

The nearly devastating pain and sadness of this poem is only increased by the juxtaposition of the lead-in which always accompanies it.  "I'm sending you this lovely winter poem that might be of some comfort to you," raises the reader's hopes for an eloquent and uplifting experience.  The diction is inviting, using words primarily of romance-language origin which serve to create a softer tone.  But as with all tragic heroes -- the higher they start, the farther they fall.  The reader is drawn in with a false sense of hope and peace and those emotions are cruelly shattered by the harsh reality that is the narrator's sad end.

Overall this seemingly simple poem raises multiple questions about how people at the end of their lives are treated in today's society.  What can be done so no other need feel the pain and isolation this narrator so clearly exhibited?  With an aging population, how should society be restructured so the elderly enjoy their well earned retirement?  Or is it truly the natural end?  Are we all destined to undergo such sadness at some point?  The poem suggests that just might be the case, but perhaps its desperation and pain can influence change so that the next winter might not be quite so cold.


*snort*  I *did* warn you didn't I?  And no, before you feel the need to debate it with me -- I don't actually believe any of the above.  

I do humbly apologize to the actual academics out there - my half-hour effort I'm sure doesn't even *begin* to touch on the deeper issues expressed.

hahaha or far more likely - it might just be a status update.  For any of us unlucky enough to be unable to escape cold climates *brrrr*

But you know what?  If you've read this far, you will never view that poem the same way again.   And to me *that* is what the arts are really about.  Not reading ridiculous amounts of unimplied depth into something simple, but seeing the ordinary in an extraordinary way.  And better yet, being able to share that extraordinary with other people. For better or for worse, your vision of this poem has been altered.  Every time it crosses your inbox you'll have a brief flash of sadness and pity, and then be even happier to dismiss those emotions and read it for the silly winter poem it is. Now picture viewing everything you come across in life through a filter like that.  Welcome to my world :)


And this is why I took maths and sciences. ;-)


I took a bunch of those too, but eventually right answers get boring.


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