The Great Snow

My sister texted me from New York last week saying, “First flurries!!”

I have never written about snow itself. My first image is of something like heavy wet feathers falling onto the glittering icy lawn in the shape of blotches of mascara– the same sadness, the same hush, white on the face of the clean sky.

But flurries make me want to dance. To hold a festival. To sing. To throw my scarves off and attack strangers with handfuls of ice. To laugh at a whole street of people slipping and falling like penguins. To slip myself. To shiver. To cry. To look loved ones in the eye. To catch my breath. To gather up my clothes again. To shake the flakes out of my hair. To smile to sigh and wait for still more snow.

Today is Thanksgiving. Here is a poem about snow by the great French author Yves Bonnefoy who spent some time in New England writing dozens of poems about snowflakes and storms. “Does snow fall the same in every language?” he asks. Here is the poem, followed by a translation by Emily Grosholz.

“La parure”

Il neige. Âme, que voulais-tu
Que tu n’aies eu de naissance éternelle?
Vois, tu as là
Pour la mort même une robe de fête?

Une parure comme à l’adolescence,
De celles qu l’on prend à mains soucieuses
Car l’étoffe en est transparente et reste près
Des doigts qui la déploient dans la lumière,
On sait qu’elle est fragile comme l’amour.

Mais des corolles, des feuilles y sont brodées,
Et déjà la musique se fait entendre
Dans la salle voisine, illuminée.
Une ardeur mystérieuse te prend la main.

“The Gown”

It’s snowing. Soul, what were you wishing for 
That you did not possess eternally?
Look, there you have
An evening gown for the occasion, death.

One of those gowns for adolescent girls,
That we take delicately in hand
Because the fine material’s transparent, gathered
Against the fingers that unfold it in the light;
Like love, we know it’s fragile.

But wreathes and foliage are embroidered over it,
And in another, brightly lighted room
Music has already started.
A mysterious ardor takes you by the hand.

…..and, perhaps strangely, the translator invents a final line which captures all of my feelings about the snow, cultivated during all those hours as a four-year-old at the window pane waiting for these very first flurries my sister called to mind…

You walk, heart pounding, into the great snow.

 

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