‘Snow’ by Galaktion Tabidze was originally written in Georgian, it has been translated to English by Christopher Michel. It is the English version that will be analyzed in this article. This poem speaks on themes of relationships, personal growth, and depression.
The poem begins with the speaker describing their own “love for the indigo snow”. When it fell, it covered the river like a “blanket”.The speaker was, they admit, once in love. This love is tied directly, through memories, to wintertime and snowfall. They are part of winter, “kin,” or family to it. This closeness comes from knowing it all their life.
Next, they describe through a series of images, how they can look back into the past, see a “glimpse,” or memory of “your scarf” in that landscape. The memory disappears quickly as a glimmer of light on the snowy ground would. As the poem progresses it becomes clear that there’s something darker going on. There is a sadness, rather than peace, at the heart of this poem. It is emphasized in the depiction of a “broken blue flower”.
The speaker, when the day begins, is covered with “tired blue dreams”. They are weighed down by the memories of the past. In the next two lines an ultimatum surfaces, either the wind or the speaker has to go. The speaker knows they need to move away from their life as it is now and find something different. They can’t be consumed by snow forever. They are not always going to sit around and pine for someone they lost. The speaker is consumed by “tired blue thoughts” now but they know that one way or another, something has to change.
You can read the original Georgian text. The English version of the poem is available here.
Structure and Poetic Techniques
‘Snow’ by Galaktion Tabidze is a forty line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines, in this English translation, do follow a specific rhyme scheme but without knowledge of the Georgian language, it is impossible to know if this was the pattern the poet intended.
Despite analyzing the text in its translated English form, there are a few literary techniques one should take note of though. Much can be intuited about Tabidze’s intentions for the text through the use of imagery, personification, repetition and punctuation.
The first, imagery, is quite prominent in ‘Snow’. Tabidze uses a variety of adjectives in order to adequately depict the affective nature of snow and its associations. The poet uses “blue” to describe the snow. It is “indigo” or a “velvet blue sea”. These unusual depictions will evoke different images within each reader’s mind, as will the later descriptions of the “crystal,” “fair” days, and the movements of wind and rain.
Repetition is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. In the case of ‘Snow,’ Tabidze utilizes blue as a descriptor several times in the text. It is integral to the speaker’s understanding of the landscape. Additionally, words are used multiple times, such as “All alone” in the twenty-sixth line.
Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. In the fourteenth line the speaker refers to “your fingers” as “humbly bent,” as they are able to feel and express human emotion. A few lines later she refers to the “grieving winds” that “pivot and flow”.
The translator, and perhaps the poet, made use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. It can be seen in the first set of lines with the repetition of “I” at the beginning of multiple lines, as well as later on in the poem when lines twenty-three and twenty-four start with “Somehow”.
Punctuation in ‘Snow’ becomes important in the last lines in which exclamation points are introduced. The placement of this end line punctuation helps the reader interpret the speaker’s passion and desperation. These emotions come across quite clearly in these lines.
Analysis of Snow
I am vicious with love for the indigo snow
Untouched, as it blankets the river.
I have traveled my homeland only to know
It when it was a velvet blue sea.
In the first lines of ‘Snow,’ the speaker begins by describing their own “love for the indigo snow”. It is “indigo,” or blue, and it at the moment the speaker was looking at it, sitting “untouched”. When it fell, it covered the river like a “blanket”. This comparison is used again later in the text, it speaks to comfort and solidity, but also to a single state of being. The emotions the speaker experiences and depicts in these lines are complex. As the poem continues on, they become darker. Peace becomes less prominent than depression or loneliness.
The next lines tell the reader something about the speaker’s love. It is “mad,” powerful, and capable of perseverance. It can “endure” the climate of their surroundings, a metaphor for life itself, most prominently, the progression of time.
There is an interesting metaphor in the fifth line. Here, the speaker compares their soul to a “bottle of snow”. The snow, trapped in a bottle, is at once separate from the world, and therefore safe, but is still liable to melt. This is explained somewhat in the text lines as the speaker discusses their age and the quick progression of days.
Following these lines, the speaker adds that they have “travelled” their “homeland only to know / It when it was a velvet blue sea”. There is a clear emotional state, one of peace and satisfaction, that this speaker associates with their home. They only seek out varied destinations when they know they’re going to see the swathes of snow they so love. That love is multi-faceted and brings along with it darker and sadder memories.
But I am not troubled. I am winter’s kin
And this is the life that I know,
A glimse of your scarf in the blue desert lingers
Disappears, and then glimmers again.
The next lines reiterate the calming impact of the season on the speaker. They state, explicitly, that they are “not troubled”. They are part of winter, “kin,” or family to it. This closeness comes from knowing it all their life. Immediately on the back of this intimate depiction of life, the speaker adds that they will also always remember the sight of “your pale hands embedded in the snow” and their “fingers, / In a garland of snow, humbly bent”.
It becomes clear why the speaker is so attached to the winter landscape. They associate this time of year and snowfalls with memories of a past love, the person to whom they are directing the text of the poem.
The blue of snow, as seen in the previous lines, returns. Now, it is used to describe a winter landscape as a “blue desert”. The speaker can look back on the past, see a “glimpse,” or memory of “your scarf” in that landscape. It soon disappears, as if a glimmer of light on the snowy ground.
And thus my mad love for the indigo snow
Untouched, as it blankets the river,
Somehow either winter or I must keep striving.
Somehow I or the wind must remain.
The speaker’s “mad love for indigo snow / Untouched” is similar to the glimpse that comes and goes of the past. The cool, calm, and peaceful mood of the text is interrupted in the nineteenth line when the speaker introduces the “winds” and their “grieving”. There is something darker going on, a sadness at the heart of this poem. This could just be a way to describe the barren nature of the land at this time of year, or it might be alluding to something in the speaker’s mind or heart.
Tabidize uses caesura in line twenty-one when the speaker exclaims over the new snow. It brings with it a “bright day” and the good “tidings” of a fresh start, an image comparable to untouched snowfall. “Tired blue dreams” cover the speaker when the day begins. Memories of the past wrap around the speaker. In the next two lines an ultimatum surfaces, either the wind or the speaker has to go. One will remain, one will disappear. The speaker references a need to continue on, striving towards a goal, likely that of a new life, another fresh start as represented by the snowfall.
Lines 25- 32
Here is a gentle game. Here is a road…
All alone, all alone you traverse it.
Your hair rushing ‘round in the scattering wind
And leaves from the field in your hair.
Tabidize uses alliteration in the twenty-fifth line with the words “gentle game”. Here, the speaker says “is a road”. It is alone and “you,” the lover, are traversing it. The loneliness of this particular section relates perfectly to the rest of the poem with its undercurrents of separation and solitude.
Despite the listener’s path, and the speaker’s loneliness, they continue to describe their love for the snow. The speaker compares it to the “sorrow” the listener/lover always had in their voice.
The sound of their voice called to the speaker, and it calls now, as the snow does. There are a series of other images that follow, depicting the listener’s hair and using natural imagery, like leaves, to paint a clear picture of happier times.
I pine for you now. How I wish you were mine!
I’m a vagrant who longs for his home.
Somehow either winter or I must keep striving!
Somehow I or the wind must pick up!
In the last lines of ‘Snow’‘, the speaker admits that they are still pining for this person. They wish that they were their’s now, but for some reason (likely the path they’re walking, as described in lines twenty-six and twenty-seven), they can’t be.
The speaker uses a metaphor to compare themselves to “a vagrant,” or a homeless person. They long for their home, or, more clearly, the relationship they had in the past. In the next lines, they admit to their own loneliness and lack of activity. Their only “companion” is a “copse” or clearing of “white pine”. The trees are white because they are, of course, covered in snow. The blankness of this scene and the solitude the speaker feels, go hand in hand.
In the following lines, the speaker reintroduces the theme of progress and personal growth. They know that they must “face” themselves and move forward alone, even though this is very hard to do.
The last four lines are an almost perfect reiteration of those that appeared earlier on in the text. The speaker tells the listener that there is a future in store for the speaker. Tabidize’s speaker says that they are not always going to sit around and pine for someone they lost. They are consumed right now, by “tired blue thoughts” but they know that one way or another, something has to change. They need to fight back against the weight of the blue blanket of snow and pick themselves up. The blanket, which once seemed to be a symbol of comfort and safety, is now more of a confining restraint. It, like depression, is keeping the speaker down.