C Claude McKay

To Winter by Claude McKay

‘To Winter’ by Claude McKay is a love letter to the cold winter months. The narrator of the poem laments the arrival of spring, as it means the winter has ended.

Claude McKay’s ‘To Winter‘ is an expression of the poet’s love for the cold winter months.
McKay’s familiarity with the hot, tropical climate that he grew up in makes him view winter as
something elusive and beautiful. The poem’s eloquent use of language and detailed descriptions of nature make it a timeless classic for any nature lover to enjoy.

To Winter by Claude McKay


Summary

Claude McKay’s ‘To Winter‘ is a poem expressing the narrator’s appreciation of nature.

The poem begins with the narrator begging the winter to stay. The next few lines of the poem describe all the signs of the coming spring; the days grow longer and warmer, animals begin to stir, and the land begins to come back to life. The narrator states that he knows what all these signs mean and that he knows that spring has arrived. He then again begs winter to stay and begins describing his homeland. He states that he fled a tropical landscape, where it is always hot and palm trees grow. His familiarity with this kind of climate makes him yearn for the calm cold months.

Themes

The main theme of this poem is the beauty of nature. This poem is meant to be the poet’s expression of his appreciation for the natural world. Despite the fact that the narrator is sad about the end of winter, his descriptions of the coming spring are the main focus of the poem. Furthermore, these descriptions are very positive and detailed, suggesting that the narrator pays careful attention to the world around him. This further demonstrates that the narrator is passionate about nature. Even though he prefers colder weather, he still marvels at the beauty of the coming spring. This poem is included in the “Harlem Shadows” collection, which contains a wide range of poetry that deals with themes of race and racism. This poem stands out in that there are no explicit references to these themes, but it does reference the author’s previous life in Jamaica.

Structure and Form

The poem is just one stanza that runs for fourteen lines. ‘To Winter‘ is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem that follows a set rhyme scheme. Specifically, the poem is a Petrarchan sonnet and therefore follows an ABBAABB CDCDCD rhyming scheme. This rhyming scheme gives the poem an almost singsong-like quality, as it includes a lot of consecutive ending sounds. ‘To Winter‘ is a lyric poem, which means that it is an expression of the narrator’s personal emotions. It is also spoken in the first person. This poem in particular is meant to be an expression of the author’s appreciation for the beauty of nature.

Detailed Analysis

Line One

Stay, season of calm love and soulful snows!

The poem begins with the narrator begging winter to stay. He describes the winter as “the season of calm love and soulful snows”. This refers to the fact that the winter is usually calm and quiet, as all of nature is slumbering at this time. The narrator romanticizes the snowfall as “soulful”, which demonstrates that he is passionate about the beauty of winter. The word “soulful” implies deep emotion, which suggests that the beauty of the snow evokes strong feelings within him.

Lines Two to Five

There is a subtle sweetness in the sun,

The ripples on the stream’s breast gaily run,

The wind more boisterously by me blows,

And each succeeding day now longer grows.

In the next few lines of the poem, the narrator describes the signs he sees of the coming spring. He uses language that gives the spring a very lively and exciting personality. He describes the sweet sun, the stream that gaily runs, and the wind that boisterously blows. This is in contrast to the calm and soulful winter. The narrator also notes that the days have begun to grow longer, further foreshadowing the coming spring.

Lines Six to Eight

The bids a gladder music have begun,

The squirrel, full of mischief and fun,

From maples’ topmost branch the brown twig throws.

Lines six to eight continue to describe the upcoming spring. The narrator talks about the animals and the trees, which have begun to stir and come back to life. The narrator refers to the squirrel as “full of mischief and fun”, and he says that the birds sing happy songs. The poem once again utilizes language that characterizes the spring as youthful, fun, and energized. He also notes that the maple tree’s branches have begun to throw, which means that they have begun to bud. All signs point towards the approach of warmer months.


Lines Nine to Ten

I read these pregnant signs, know what they mean:

I know that thou art making ready to go.

Here, the narrator once again states that he can tell that spring is around the corner. The word “pregnant” evokes the image of fertility, which is associated heavily with springtime. The “thou” that is getting ready to leave refers to the winter. He can tell from all the signs of life and fertility that winter is at its end.

Lines Eleven to Fourteen

Oh stay! I fled a land where fields are green

Always, and palms wave gently to and fro,

And winds are balmy, blue brooks ever sheen,

To ease my heart of its impassioned woe

In the first of the final few lines of the poem, the narrator once again begs winter to stay. He then begins to describe a land that he has fled from. The narrator characterizes this location as being warm and tropical: the fields are always green, palm trees grow, and the air is always balmy. Despite the fact that these descriptions make this location seem appealing, the narrator states that he left this location to soothe his “impassioned woe”. This suggests that despite the narrator acknowledging its beauty, he personally does not enjoy this tropical environment.

Claude McKay left his homeland of Jamaica to live in more northern climates. Therefore, this poem is his expression of his personal preference for the colder weather. He describes both the spring and the climate of his homeland in an appealing way, yet throughout the poem, he begs the winter not to go. This is because while he is able to appreciate the beauty of warmer seasons, he himself prefers wintertime.

About Claude McKay

Claude McKay was a Jamaica writer and poet, known for writing popular poems such as ‘If We Must Die,’ and the “Harlem Shadows” collection. He spent a good portion of his life traveling and working in various different countries, but eventually settled in the United States. He solidified himself as an important member of the “Harlem Renaissance” movement through his works. McKay was admired for his dedication to speaking out against racism and uplifting the African American community.

Similar Poetry

  • After the Winter,’ another poem by Claude McKay that utilizes a lot of nature imagery.
  • The rest of the Harlem Shadows collection by Claude McKay, which includes ‘To Winter‘.
  • Winter Time by Robert Louis Stevenson, another poem expressing appreciation for the cold winter months
  • Any of the poems from this list of ten poems about nature on Poem Analysis.

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About
Christina studied a degree in English Literature with a Minor in Professional Writing at Concordia in Canada. She is deeply passionate about the world of literature, with a particular affinity for poetry.
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