Every branch big with it

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Controversy continues to rage here at The Dabbler – now Gaw’s claiming that the recent weather has really been quite enjoyable

I can’t remember enjoying snow so much. It must have something to do with there being just enough for some fun but not enough to disrupt travel too seriously, at least here in London. The first proper fall we’ve had in a couple of years also lent some freshness and novelty.

Then there’s having two small boys who are discovering ‘the innocent joy of speed’, as Brit put it so nicely on Monday. Bombing down Parliament Hill on two-year-old but still pristine sledges was great and much-anticipated fun. Even though there was a crowd of people at the top, we had a clear run down what had become an icy flue with a cheeky little jump at the bottom. The trudge back up the slope was tiring for little legs but useful in ensuring a quiet afternoon back at home. Then Sunday morning saw snowman-building and snowball fights in the local square followed by a warming roast. The right kind of snow.

Anyway, feeling so well-disposed, I thought it would be good to choose a poem that showed some appreciation of the stuff. Thomas Hardy’s Snow in the Suburbs; is little known and untypical of his oeuvre, in its urban setting and also its cheerfulness – cheerful, that is, relative to his usual miserabilism: a black cat is of ‘feeble hope’, an entirely reasonable emotion to experience finding itself in the bleak Hardyan universe, but things turn out reasonably well for the creature.

Snow in the Suburbs

Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.
A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eye
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.
The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.

“Every street and pavement mute” – a line that fits the picture at top, a photograph of our road muffled with snow. I gather it was taken shortly after the last World War, perhaps during the dreadful winter of 1947, when the snow was very much of the wrong sort.

Finally, here’s some bonus prose, one of my favourite pieces, the penultimate paragraph of Forest and Steppe from Turgenev’s Sketches from a Hunter’s Album. Not a stroll one could enjoy even on the higher reaches of a frozen Hampstead Heath, and ending in something very different from our current slushy thaw:

And on a wintry day to go walking through the high snow-drifts in search of hares, to breathe in the frosty, sharp-edged air, to crinkle one’s eyes unwillingly against the dazzling, finely speckled glitter of the soft snow, to wonder at the green hue of the sky above a reddening forest!. .. And then there are the first spring days, when all around everything gleams and crashes down, and the smell of the warmer earth begins to rise through the heavy steam of melting snow, and skylarks sing trustingly under the sun’s oblique rays on patches where the snow has thawed, and, with a gay noise, a gay roaring, the torrents go whirling from ravine to ravine…”

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8 thoughts on “Every branch big with it

  1. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    January 25, 2013 at 15:14

    By chance there’s another bit of cheerfulish Hardy on Nigeness today…
    The last lines of Snow in the Suburbs are beautiful.

  2. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    John Halliwell
    January 25, 2013 at 15:44

    Yesterday, having read JG’s post from first to last, and, as usual, been astonished by the author’s monumental grasp of his subject, I returned to this: ‘Now I see it, as I do much else, merely through slang’s opaque prism. I could put this forward as number two in the colour thread, but it is not. It is white, but it is also wet, cold, traitorously slippery and fortunately ephemeral. It is simply snow.’ I thought: he’s in a foul mood; it probably only requires a comment along the lines of: ‘snow is wonderful, it changes, if only for a brief time, perceptions of the world; it covers over the cracks and hides the ugly and the hideous; it recaptures that fleeting, unbridled excitement of childhood’, to bring a virtual volley from Paris. I thought: I’ll leave it and wait for Gaw on Friday, clearly a man who knows a thing or two about the fluffy stuff. And today’s post proves it. Lovely. And now Nige has posted more Hardy. And now it’s snowing again…..

    • Worm
      January 25, 2013 at 18:37

      verily our couplets runneth over!

  3. bugbrit@live.com'
    January 25, 2013 at 16:41

    Im sitting here in the office now in SE Virginia waiting for the threatened/promised snow to arrive. Schools will close at lunchtime…stores will be stripped… yes theres an inch of snow on the way. Soft Southerners in the UK have nothing on soft Southerners over here. What a bunch of panty-waists.

    Growing up in Yorkshire I seem to remember our best snows being in late January or February. And the thing I recall best, the magical sign that snow had come in the night was that muffed hush that blanketted a waking childs world.

    If it does come today I’m pissing off home early. Not to avoid it but to get out in it with the camera. Its been a lean year so far for photography at Banished’s bugs

  4. Worm
    January 25, 2013 at 18:39

    lovely poem and prose G, I especially liked the “green hue of the sky above a reddening forest” which is so very true, I wonder why the lowering sky goes a shade of mint green in the afternoon in places of great cold?

  5. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    January 25, 2013 at 19:03

    Doing just what a post should on a sleety, slushy, follow-the-gritery afternoon, rosy glow time.

    Snow, schnee, neige, the recent blizzard of Dabbler snow related stuff has me putting on the remembering head. The recent unfortunate but probably avoidable tragedy above the Lost Valley on Bidean brought back memories of a January day some years ago. The Herdsman (Buachaille Etive Mor) that’s the sticky up bit on the left as you approach the glen, is one of a number Scottish car park peaks, easily accessible, park, dress, 30 mins, here we are at the base, no matter that the prevailing conditions demand experience and that certain bombproof quality so essential, if you intend going home in the same vehicle you arrived in. And therein lies the problem, they have organised the ‘climbing’ weekend months before, battled up the road, boot full of pretty kit as worn by those BBC people, spent the night in the Clachaig among actual climbers who say, when they are asked, “come back when you’re eyes are the same size as the belly.” They never listen, makes good headlines though.

    Back to the Herdsman, we were in training so the worse the weather was the better, up we went, minor climb but now, because of the conditions, more absorbing. It was dark on the summit so we decided to walk along the ridge and descend on the Loch Etive side, the snow was drifting, about one metre in places and snow shoes were useless so plough on, young Lochinvar. The wind was by now howling, at a guess probably 70 mph, the spindrift was at head hight and had us two chickens roped up and belaying each other on a reasonably level ridge, unheard of normally. We had managed to scrounge a Magellan, the original global positioning device belonging to a bloke who wore disruptive pattern material and could track our position fairly accurately so when Dave said “here’s the gully” we were fairly certain it was our exit route, a 70 degree gully, so caution in the current conditions was the byword. The depth of snow in the gully was about two metres, half of it fresh and avalanche prone , as we pondered the possibilities Dave looked at his watch and said “closing time in three hours,” that was it, minds made up, a master plan was hatched, unique in the annals of winter larks, we started an avalanche. Belaying my long-time and fearless partner, he jumped into the gully with enough rope for about ten meters of slide, it worked, sort of, the gully was about 400 metres long, we descended glissade style, bums on the snow, using axes as a brake, the descent took 20 minutes and was accompanied by our own, personal avalanches, one of the most exhilarating, snowy dashes to the boozer I have ever had.

    That bombproof stuff is, at times, a godsend when swift halves call.

  6. Worm
    January 25, 2013 at 19:10

    Brillant Malty! Hope you have some warming whisky closer to hand this evening

  7. Gaw
    January 28, 2013 at 07:28

    Thanks all for your generous comments. And what a terrific experience that must have been Malty!

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