It has just snowed for the first time this year in New England, and, being Bermudian, I am particularly struck by how snow fills and empties at once. Fills up space, but simplifies the landscape by removing so much from sight, emptying the terrain. Craig Raine’s brief poem “How Snow Falls” (quoted in full below) is in thrall to these extremes, locating us and dislocating us as good poems do. Finding us by defining the landscape, and losing us like trees are blurred when snow falls. The snow and the poem creep in like “the fog on little cat feet” in Carl Sandberg’s poem “Fog.” We are taken into the poem and are delightfully befuddled by its mystery until the end, when like snow settling, defining an outline, the poem’s intent is revealed.
“Like the unshaven prickle of a sharpened razor” so captures the acuity in the air that snowfall brings, and as this is a poet who loves to play with language, it is “the prickle of the razor” that is unshaven, not the beard, so the first cut smarts. A sensation which importantly brings our body to the poem, brings us in to look into a mirror, as if when performing a mundane pulchritude task. Then the poet goes deeper with “the pang of something intangible,” how in this location and dislocation we are made as wistful as the snow falling, have a longing which again locates us, but which we cannot grasp, define.
Raine describes the snowfall as “Filling our eyes” like a blank mirror which is disorienting. He continues to appeal to our senses with “the sinusitis of perfume, without the perfume.” bringing in the sinuses, and yet without the pungency of scent. Indeed, the smell of the cold is an absence, much like the silence heard after listening to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is defined by the previous thunderous sounds.
Raine then reveals the poem’s ultimate theme of love, and how it swirls, blurs, and yet unmasks both our visage and that of the other with “and then love’s vertigo, love’s exactitude.” This line references the way love locates us by both the loving of another, and by being loved. He implies no matter the course of it through our life, we, in fact, never tire of it, never grasp it and having truly loved, indeed, never recover from it, concluding with “This transformation we never quite get over.”
This wonderfully brings us back to the beginning of the poem with the shaving act, which is an act to better oneself, is a removal of implied uncouth layers which loving another does, and indeed transforms, not just our outer appearance, but us.
How Snow Falls by Craig Raine
Like the unshaven prickle
of a sharpened razor,
this new coldness in the air,
of something intangible.
Filling our eyes,
the sinusitis of perfume
without the perfume.
And then love’s vertigo,
this snow, this transfiguration
we never quite get over.
Nancy Anne Miller is a Bermudian poet with eight poetry collections. Tide Tables (Kelsay Books, 2019) is her latest. She has been published internationally in journals such as Edinburgh Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Salzburg Review, Agenda, Stand, The Fiddlehead, The Caribbean Writer. She is a MacDowell Fellow and Bermuda Arts Council Grant recipient. This post is part of our One Poet, One Poem series in which we invite poets to write about a poem that means something to them.