One of the first poems I remember studying at school was Ted Hughes' "The Thought Fox". This poem seemed an appropriate place to start, dramatising as it does its own creation through the living metaphor of the fox making its tracks in the snow:
The Thought Fox
I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Besides the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.
Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:
Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox's nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now
Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come
Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Coming about its own business
Till, with sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.
From Hughes' "forest" with its "darkness" and "loneliness" it was only a short walk to "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost (even wintry by name). This poem has always seemed to me to be allied with "Desert Places", by the same author.
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The speaker in "Stopping by Woods..." does not let himself be seduced by the dark beauty of the woods -- the horse's harness bells shake him from his dreaming, and keep him on his path. But in "Desert Places" the speaker has no such reminder to shake him from his dark reverie as he contemplates the vast snowy wastes of his own loneliness.
Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.
And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
It seems strange to find a brighter side to Frost's "blanker whiteness of benighted snow" in a poem by the notoriously pessimistic Philip Larkin. However, Larkin's "First Sight" takes a few faltering first steps in the direction of hope:
Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.
As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.