‘Winter in the Boulevard’ by D.H. Lawrence is a four stanza poem which is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Any poem which takes on this form (of four lines per stanza) can be referred to as a “sapphic” poem. This term originates from the ancient poet, Sappho, whose verse was constructed in the same pattern.
Lawrence has chosen to structure this piece with a varying patterns of rhyme that change from the first to second half of the poem as well as from stanza to stanza. The first two quatrains follow the basic pattern of aabb ccdd, while the third and fourth diverge to efef ghii. The final quatrain that concludes the poem is necessary to emphasize the speaker’s main point. It is within these two lines the reader will find the main theme of the poem.
Summary of Winter in the Boulevard
The poem begins with the speaker stating that the frost has landed on the trees and started to strangle the reaming leaves from their branches. They are cut down, blown away, and buried in the snow. Their “fantasies” of making it through the season are no more.
Within the next lines, the speaker describes how the now naked trees are forced to confront the coming season. They are at risk from the weather and know it. In the third stanza, the speaker notices a few tiny sparrows huddled together amongst the leaves and twigs. They attempt to keep warm and serve as a reminder that life still exists during this season.
The poem concludes with the speaker stating that all life on earth is at the mercy of the “welkin,” or sky and heavens. There is nothing on can do to truly contend with the frost, when it decides to come.
Analysis of Winter in the Boulevard
The frost has settled down upon the trees
and ruthlessly strangled off the fantasies
of leaves that have gone unnoticed, swept like old
romantic stories now no more to be told.
In the first stanza of ‘Winter in the Boulevard’, the speaker begins by describing the basic state of the landscape which is before him. He starts with the broad details of the weather and scenery and then, in the following stanzas, goes into more detail as to what plants and animals are present there.
One will notice by the end of the poem that Lawrence’s speaker has spent a great deal of time on the scenery, animals, and plants, but has not mentioned any human residents. Considering that the landscape is actually a cityscape, and no less—a boulevard, that is a very interesting choice to make. One might wonder, what role do humans play in this world?
The first line speaks of the “frost” which has finally “settled down” on the trees around the streets. It was clear before a reader began this piece that it would be taking place in the colder months. The boulevard is in “Winter.” Due to the fact that the frost is spoken of as being “settled,” the scene comes across peacefully. There is no reason for it not to come to a rest.
Although the scene is calm, there is also a darker side to the season. As one would expect, not many plants are able to cope with the frost. The speaker makes direct mention of trees which had hoped to keep some of their leaves, but are instead “ruthless strangled.” This manner of speech is known as personification. The speaker is giving motive to the frost, and emotions to the trees and their leaves. This helps develop the poet’s desired mood.
The leaves had “fantasies” which exist no longer. They had hope, unrealistically, that they might survive the season. This is now definitely not going to happen. They are “swept” from the trees and blown through the air like “old romantic stories” that are no longer told. There was a specialness to the leaves which had survived this long, but like an old story, they are forgotten as they fly away.
The trees down the boulevard stand naked in thought,
their abundant summery wordage silenced, caught
in the grim undertow; naked the trees confront
implacable winter’s long, cross-questioning brunt.
In the second stanza, the speaker continues to give a further description of the trees. Lawrence utilizes personification again to make the reader empathize with the plants and the suffering they endure during the winter months. One might relate to their feelings of exposure and helplessness.
The trees are lined up and down the “boulevard” and are now blown clean of leaves. They are said to be “naked in thought.” They are frozen, stripped of their leaves, or in this metaphor, clothes, and forced to contemplate their situation. The “foliage” which was once “abundant” has been “silenced.” It was taken in by the “grim undertow” of the frost and removed entirely.
In the last phrase of this section, the speaker describes the trees as having to “confront” the “cross-questioning” of winter. They are to be bombarded by the new days of cold from which they are unable to escape.
Has some hand balanced more leaves in the depths of the twigs?
Some dim little efforts placed in the threads of the birch?—
It is only the sparrows, like dead black leaves on the sprigs,
sitting huddled against the cerulean, one flesh with their perch.
In the third stanza of ‘Winter in the Boulevard’, the speaker poses two questions. These are not meant to be answered by the reader, rather contemplated as passing thoughts. They are moments within the speaker’s own mind as he tries to come to a full understanding of the moment.
He looks into the trees and sees something he is at first unsure of. He thinks that perhaps someone has “balanced more leaves in the depths of the twigs.” It is as if a human hand has stashed a number of leaves around a particularly dense section of twigs. He elaborates on his inquiry with the thought that maybe someone has, with “little effort placed” these pieces of nature, in the “threads of the birch.”
This thought passes quickly. He soon realizes that it is “sparrows” building a nest together. After the previous stanza in which the darker side of winter was celebrated, this intrusion of life seems strange. The birds are huddled “against the cerulean” of the tree. They are close together in an effort to keep warm. They appear so uniform they might as well be “one flesh.”
The clear, cold sky coldly bethinks itself.
Like vivid thought the air spins bright, and all
trees, birds, and earth, arrested in the after-thought
awaiting the sentence out from the welkin brought.
The fourth stanza moves back from this imitate moment with the sparrows. The speaker is now interested in the “clear, cold sky” which also has the ability to think for itself. It seems to contemplate the whole situation as well and its thoughts become like “vivid” air that spins “bright” through the sky. The sky is trying to determine what its next action will be. It brought the frost, what should come next?
In ranking of importance, “the trees, birds and earth” are all an “after-thought.” They sit and wait for their “sentence” to be carried out. The seasons are brought on by the sky, or the “welkin.” In this context, the word “welkin” can mean either the sky or the heavens. All of the life on earth is at the mercy of the sky, or God.