‘Gymnopédies No. 1’ by Adrian Matejka is a comforting poem that depicts a snowy landscape and explores the peace one can find in it alongside loved ones.
The power lines are knocked out by a falling tree in this poem and Matejka and his daughter take the strange in-between time to explore the frozen land together. They eventually build two snowmen, marking the end of their adventure together.
Matejka’s Gymnopédies No. 1 explores themes of nature and family. In a moment where technology and electricity have been disabled by a falling tree, Matejka and his daughter get time to explore nature. They journey together through the landscape, seeing aspects of the wildlife such as a ‘termite-hollowed stump’ and the ‘hollow’ that a fox retreats to. The poem reflects on the silent beauty of quality time, and remarks at how nature can enable these beautiful moments to take place.
Gymnopédies No. 1 is split into 27 lines, with the majority of lines being paired into a short two-line stanza. This is the form for the majority of the poem, bar two stanzas which measure three and four lines towards the middle of Gymnopédies No. 1. The gaps within the poem, imposed by the stanza form, suggest division, with the intermission between the week that it ‘didn’t stop snowing’ where the ‘power lines / broke’ and normality being emphasized by these structural gaps.
You can list to the poem here.
Adrian Matejka uses enjambment to reflect movement within his poem. As the line flows quickly from one to another, so does nature and the characters within the poem. This is most clearly used when the ‘trees fell / on houses & power lines’, the use of enjambment representing the falling tree as it crashes down to the next line.
Caesura is also used within the poem in order to place emphasis on certain aspects. This is combined with enjambment to place words like ‘, my daughter’ grammatically on their own, insinuating their importance to the poet. It is through techniques like these that Matejka builds the theme of family into the poem, displaying his daughter’s importance through the structural decisions he makes.
Gymnopédies No. 1 is a reference to a piece of music composed by Erik Satie and is commonly known as one of the most relaxing pieces of music ever created. Yet, there is also something melancholic and haunting about the piece, fitting in well with the poem as perhaps Matejka the certain specialty of the moment he is living in, knowing well that he cannot return to relive this memory.
You can listen to the music here.
That was the weekit didn’t stop snowing.
The beginning of Gymnopédies No. 1 sets the scene, developing a sense of the wintery landscape that is to be explored within the poem. ‘It didn’t stop snowing’ all week, building up the expectation of what is to come. Also, by placing the description of nature at the beginning of the poem, Matejka focuses on the importance nature holds – the landscape and weather being the catalyst that allows him and his daughter to spend quality time together.
That was the week(…)for payday in a snowstorm.
These lines develop the setting further, showing how technology and electricity are down due to the ‘power lines’ which ‘broke’ due to the falling trees. They are seemingly in this state of betweenness, without connection to the internet and also within this strange weather occurrence in which the snow doesn’t stop coming. The atmosphere of Gymnopédies No. 1 is magical, embracing nature and rejecting technology.
There is an element of desperation and pain within Gymnopédies No. 1, with the fleeting reference to the ‘houses’ upon which the ‘trees fell’ being swiftly passed over. This is then followed with the image of someone ‘waiting for payday in a snowstorm’, the idea of them struggling with money while in these desperate circumstances not being discussed further. Perhaps Matejka is discussing the destructive power of nature here, outlining the possible negative impacts before then returning to his more positive narrative.
That snow week, my daughter(…)an empty pocket.
Matejka then places the focus of Gymnopédies No. 1 on himself and his daughter. Together they ‘trudged’ through the snow, exploring the ‘broken branches’ of the fallen trees and ‘snow’ filled landscape. Although disorderly, the uprooted trees take on a comforting aspect of the poem, the serene blanket of snow that they must ‘trudge’ through everything giving Gymnopédies No. 1 an auditory aspect of snow crunching underfoot. The constant reference to the ‘snow’ reaffirms this scene construction, with Matejka elevating the beauty of nature within the poem by drawing upon multiple senses.
The separation between ‘my daughter / and &’, enforced by a line break suggest that perhaps they are not as close as they could be. Although the use of enjambment suggests there is a certain connection there, perhaps their relationship was lacking in time devoted to quality time. The sudden break from normality with the arrival of the snow allows for Matejka to spend this time with his daughter, bringing them closer and allowing for familial bonding as they ‘trudge’ through the snow.
The underlying menace or uncertainty which first arose with the crushed houses resurfaces with the image of ‘hungry fingers through an empty pocket’. This reference could be discussing people that do not have enough supplies to last through the long period of snow, the desperation of the fingers searching through the ‘empty pocket’ being an unsettling element to the poem. While Matejka takes the time to explore the landscape with his daughter, other unseen characters within Gymnopédies No. 1 may not be facing as happy a fate.
Over the termite-hollowed stump(…)when we open the back door at night.
The beauty of nature is reaffirmed by the quiet exploration of the landscape within these lines. The pair move from to ‘termite-hollowed stump’, marveling at the power of nature to reduce the thing to resemble a ‘flat tire’. It could be understood that the reason for the trees falling earlier in the poem was from the termite infestation mentioned here.
The elegant moment of the fox which ‘dives’ back into its ‘hollow’ uses images of animals to compound a sense of awe at the vast amount of life they experience on their journey. While for the two characters, normally seeing just the ‘night’ when they open their door, there is not much to the outside world, this marks a change in the pair, beginning to see and appreciate more aspects of hidden nature.
That was the week of snow(…)remember while my daughter
The father-daughter relationship between the characters in Gymnopédies No. 1 is strengthened by their journey into nature. These lines outline the change, with the poet saying that the scene ‘glittered like every / Christmas card’, the father appreciating the serene perfection of the snow. It is within this wintery atmosphere where Matejka creates new memories with his daughter, their building of snowmen concluding the poem.
poked around for the best placeto stand a snowman. One(…)eyes to see the wholepicture once things warm up.
The two characters make snowmen together, looking around the snow-filled scene to find the ‘best place’ for them to be. The fusion of man’s efforts and nature here, in the form of using elements of the woods to construct the snowmen, ‘pinecone nose’ represents the human joy that has come from this event of nature. The bending of the two things reflected through this final segment of the Gymnopédies No. 1.
The final image focuses on a snowman they construct with ‘eyes to see the whole/picture once things warm up.’ Matejka suggests that as the snowman melts, it will at once become one with the ground, and therefore nature, but also then be looking to the sky, seeing the whole world from the ‘best place’ they chose together. This final moment of Matejka taking it all in could reflect him creating this new memory with his daughter, the peaceful scene of happily making snowmen concluding their adventure into the snowy landscape.