Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”
The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit’s tread.
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.
~William Cullen Bryant from “The Death of the Flowers”
These dark, icy, and sodden days are scarcely recalled while basking in the lightness of June when the sun shines 19 hours a day.
There is no way to cope with such overwhelming darkness except by adding in a few minutes more a day over six months, otherwise the shock of leaving behind the light would be too great. Howling wind knocks and batters, freezing rain beats mercilessly at the window panes to coat everything with a 1/4 inch of ice, puddles stand deeper than they appear, mud sucks off boots, leaves are thoroughly shaken from embarrassed branches.
We have no remnant of summer civility and frivolity left; we must adapt or cry trying, only adding to a pervasive sogginess.
Nevertheless, these melancholy days have their usefulness — there are times of joyful respite from frenetic activity while reading, snuggled deep under quilts, safe and warm. Without such stark contrast, the light and bright time of year would become merely routine, yet just another sunny day.
That never happens here in the Pacific northwest.
We celebrate the emerging light with real thanksgiving and acknowledge this encompassing darkness makes our gratitude more genuine.
We are privileged to live within such a paradox: there is, after all, a certain gladness in our sadness.