In Cold Storm Light

Leslie Marmon Silko

‘In Cold Storm Light’ by Leslie Marmon Silko is a beautifully written nature poem that focuses on a winter day. The poem uses multiple examples of imagery to describe the scene. 

This little-known nature poem is an incredibly beautiful testament to the power of the winter season

This lovely winter poem describes the wind in great, imaginative detail. It requires the reader to creatively imagine what the wind would or could taste like and smell like in unique circumstances. Plus, since the poet uses little to no details about a specific place or time, it allows the reader to imagine this poem taking place anywhere they want. 

In Cold Storm Light by Leslie Marmon Silko


In Cold Storm Light’ by Leslie Marmon Silko is a nature poem that focuses on a windy winter day. 

The poem describes the wind, what it feels and tastes like, as well as what it looks like. The speaker imagines elk running through the treetops as the wind whips down from the sky and takes note of the way that the mist and snow intertwine around rocks and branches. 

Structure and Form 

In Cold Storm Light’ by Leslie Marmon Silko is a nature poem that is written in free verse and divided into two stanzas. The first is three lines long, and the second is sixteen lines long. The poet also used indention in the poem, moving some lines on the page further than others. This creates a visual of the wind movement that the poem describes. 

Literary Devices 

  • Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of a few literary devices. These include: 
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “wind is wet” in line four. 
  • Imagery: the use of particularly interesting descriptions that should inspire the reader to imagine a scene in great detail. For example, “out of the thick ice sky / running swiftly.”
  • Kinesthesia: the use of contrasting sensory descriptions. For example, suggesting that a sound smells like something or a taste feels like something. An example in this poem is “The wind is cold / with the sound of juniper.”
  • Repetition: the use of the same literary device multiple times, for example, “moving, moving.”


Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-3 

In cold storm light


canyon rim.

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by describing how they were enduring a “cold storm” and the little light penetrating through the clouds while starting at the “sand rock / canyon rim.” The natural images come quickly in this poem, firmly establishing the poet’s interest in nature and one’s experiences in it. 

It’s unclear who the speaker is, where they are, or why they’re there (at this point, anyway). So, readers are forced to fill in the blanks. 

Lines 4-10 

The wind is wet

with the smell of pinon.


The snow elk come,

Over the next few lines, the speaker uses repetition to describe the wind. It’s “wet” and “cold,” they say, but not in the traditional way. The poet’s speaker compares the wind to “the smell of pinon” and “the sound of juniper.” This is a unique example of kinesthesia that challenges readers to try to understand what it would be like to have wind that is “wet / with the smell of pinon.” 

Likely, the poet chose to use this language in order to bring in as many images as possible. The wind, in its many forms, is making the speaker think about other experiences that are connected to other senses, like taste and smell. 

Suddenly, the pace of the poem changes. The poet uses the two-word line “And then” to indicate a transition away from the lyrical meditation on the wind. Out of the “ice sky,” the speaker says, elk come running. They’re “snow elk.” This description is far more about the season they’re in than a specific species of elk. It is furthered by the poet’s suggestion that the elk came out of the sky. 

They are “pounding / swirling above the treetops.” With the addition of this line, it seems likely that the speaker was not thinking so much of elk as they are still interested in the wind. This is likely an extended metaphor that’s meant to describe the wind in powerful detail. 

Lines 11-19 

Moving, moving


and leaves.

The poet’s use of enjambment, and the line lengths they chose to use, are furthered through their language. This is no more true than in the eleventh-thirteenth lines. 

Continuing to speak about the wind, the speaker describes the elk passing behind the branches of the trees with the “storm wind.” They note the “train of snowflakes / strands of mist / tangled in rocks / and leaves.” This alludes to the complexity of the scene and how all things, mist, wind, animals, and snow, are connected. 

Additionally, by describing the snowflakes as a “crystal train,” the speaker is suggesting that the snow is falling heavily and quickly. It may also feel unending, like a train passing on the tracks with one car following the next. 


What kind of poem is ‘The Cold Storm Light?’

‘The Cold Storm Light’ is a nature poem that is written in free verse and divided into two stanzas. The first is three lines long, and the second is sixteen lines long.

What is the meaning of ‘The Cold Storm Light?’

The meaning is that there is a great deal of power and beauty to be found in the interconnected natural world. It’s something that should be appreciated but often isn’t, the poet may also be suggesting.

What is ‘The Cold Storm Light’ about? 

The poem is about a landscape in winter and how it is viewed with the meager “cold storm light” shining on it. The poet uses extended metaphors and imagery in order to describe the wind, mist, and snow. 

Why is ‘The Cold Storm Light‘ important?

This is a less-commonly read poem, but it is a great one if readers are interested in exploring unique depictions of the natural world. This poem is not straightforward, and it’s very easy to imagine the many different interpretations that readers might have of the text.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example: 

Poetry+ Review Corner

In Cold Storm Light by Leslie Marmon Silko

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Leslie Marmon Silko (poems)

Leslie Marmon Silko

This may not be a super well-known poem, but it is one of the most beautiful pieces that Silko has so far written in her career. It looks at nature in a unique and captivating way.
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20th Century

This is a less-commonly-read 20th-century poem that was written by the very skilled Silko. It has not been influential in the long history of 20th-century poetry and therefore doesn't rank too high among poems from this period.
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Leslie Marmon Silko is a Native American poet who is well-known for her nature poems. This particular piece is not incredibly well known, but it does demonstrate her verse style very well.
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Nature is without a doubt the most important theme at work in this poem. The poet focuses on nature in every line and every image leads to a broader natural scene that becomes easier for the reader to imagine.
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While there is little to no real emotion reflected in this poem, it is very clear that the speaker is enjoying their view of the natural world and the feelings it's likely bringing up. They spend so much time describing the natural world that it seems unlikely that they're unhappy viewing it.
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The poet uses a great deal of creativity and imagination in order to describe the scene in the way she does. It is likely going to take readers more than one time through the text to fully understand how the poet is connecting the creative images together.
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The poet uses her imagination for much of this poem, including what the wind smells and feels like and the image of the snow elk running around the top of the trees' branches. Readers will also have to use their imaginations to try to visualize the same thing.
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The focus of this poem is on a winter landscape, but a discussion of the season is implicit. The speaker describes the landscape as it appears with snow, wind, and mist. But, it is likely also imagining what it was like prior to the turn of the seasons.
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Snow is a critical part of the scene the speaker is describing. She uses unique language that's incredibly inspiring to depict what's going on around her speaker and much of the focus is on the movement of the snow.
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There is a powerful image of trees, and the elk-like wind moving through the trees' branches in this poem. Since the text is very short, any image that the poet used, like that of the trees, is very important for the reader's overall experience.
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Winter is one of the primary topics at work in this poem. The poet describes a winter scene that brings up various sense-images, like smells and tastes. She uses figurative language to describe the scene's effect on her speaker.
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Free Verse

This is a free verse poem that uses lines of varying length, as short as two words, to describe a winter scene. The poet also chose to curve the lines' indention in order to make the text appear more unique.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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