‘Bleak Weather‘ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox is a three-stanza poem that is made up of sets of eight lines. These individual stanzas are each divided into two thoughts or long sentences. The poem is also consistent in its rhyme scheme, it follows a pattern of ABABCDCD that repeats, with variant end rhymes, in each stanza.
The poem begins with the speaker describing all of the changes that have come over a much love landscape that she is quite familiar with. This place is no longer the rich land of “red lilies” and singing robins. The colder days of winter have come and covered over the beautiful flowers and driven a robin, who they once thrilled to hear sing, off to warmer forests.
She continues to criticize the robin for leaving the land she loves so deeply. She does not believe that “he” should have deserted them so easily. She feels scornful and rueful about the changes and is determined to not let them hurt her relationship.
The final stanza presents to the reader the reasons why the relationship between the listener and the speaker is not going to fail just because time is progressing. Unlike the robin who sings alone in a warmer clime, the speaker and her lover are going to be together. Their song will be fueled by their mutual love for one another.
Analysis of Bleak Weather
Dear love, where the red lilies blossomed and grew,
The white snows are falling;
And all through the wood, where I wandered with you,
The loud winds are calling;
And the robin that piped to us tune upon tune,
Neath the elm—you remember,
Over tree-top and mountain has followed the June,
And left us—December.
The speaker of ‘Bleak Weather‘ begins by providing the reader with an in-depth look at the world she and her lover once inhabited. It is a place that, like time, has moved on.
From the first words of the poem, it is clear that the speaker is directing this piece to someone that she loves. “Dear love,” she says, the place where “I wandered with you” is changing. The red lilies that once “blossomed and grew” there are gone. They have been replaced and covered over by “white snows.” The places that they once walked are now empty. The only thing that can be heard or felt there is the “calling” of the wind.
Time is moving on, undeterred by the memories and experiences that are being washed over. The robin is no longer calling to them in “tune upon tune” and June has been replaced by the cold of December.
It is clear from this first stanza that the speaker is doing more than just remembering a place that she once knew. She is comparing the state of their relationship then, to now. As time progresses and changes the landscape, so too have their feelings for one another.
Has left, like a friend that is true in the sun,
And false in the shadows.
He has found new delights, in the land where he’s gone,
Greener woodlands and meadows.
What care we? let him go! let the snow shroud the lea,
Let it drift on the heather!
We can sing through it all; I have you—you have me,
And we’ll laugh at the weather.
In the second stanza, the speaker picks up where she left off, discussing the movements of a robin that once sang for them. “He,” meaning the robin, has departed from the place they once knew. It is as if he has turned his back on them. He is “true in the sun, / And false in the shadows.”
The robin has moved on somewhere else where he will be able to experience new delights. There will be “Greener woodlands and meadows” for him to enjoy, rather than staying and suffering in the colds of December.
The last four lines of this stanza are told with a newfound rue for the changes. The speaker is attempting to display an attitude of separation and nonchalance about what she can observe. While speaking to her love she asks him, “What care we? Let him go!” She wants to be able to let these things go, and not care about the fact that the snow is “shroud[ing] the lea,” (lea: meaning open land). She believes that the two of them will be able to “sing through it all” and make their relationship work no matter what changes come for them. They will be able to endure any “weather” as they have one another.
The old year may die, and a new one be born
That is bleaker and colder;
But it cannot dismay us; we dare it—we scorn,
For love makes us bolder.
Ah Robin! sing loud on the far-distant lea,
Thou friend in fair weather;
But here is a song sung, that’s fuller of glee,
By two warm hearts together.
Despite the changes that were spoken of at the beginning of the poem, the speaker is now confident in their ability to wait out the cold months and grow stronger together.
The years may “die” and new years may “be born” that are not so warm and welcoming as those of the past, but they will not “dismay us.” They will “scorn” the changes and become “bolder” with their love.
In the last four lines of ‘Bleak Weather‘, the narrator turns to speak to the robin. She tells “him” that from where he is on a “far-distant lea” he can sing in “fair weather.” But his song will not compare to their own which is “fuller of glee” because it is sung by “two warm hearts together.”
About Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Ella Wheeler Wilcox was born in Johnstown Center, Rock County, Wisconsin in November of 1850. It is known that from a young age Wilcox was absorbed in the reading of “popular literature.” This early love of writing and reading led her to publish first pieces at the age of 14. They were published in the New York Mercury. It was soon after that when a number of her poems began to be published in other weekly papers and magazines.
Her first book, Drops of Water, appeared in 1872. It was soon followed by another volume, Shells. After the success of a number of books of poetry, a publisher in Chicago rejected her fourth. This was a collection of love poems that were deemed “immoral.” This rating made it all the more successful among readers. These semi-erotic poems are the work for which Wilcox’s is best known and they established her reputation with over 60,000 copies sold in two years.
In 1884, Wilcox was married, but she continued to write, never becoming anything less than prolific. She published other volumes throughout the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. She also spent time writing fiction, some of her best-known novels are Mal Moulé, and Sweet Danger. Wilcox’s husband died in 1916, and after becoming obsessed with spiritualism and having successfully completed a tour of Allied camps in France, (under her husband’s apparent suggestion,) Wilcox died in 1919.