The poem presents a speaker’s consideration of how life would be different if she didn’t have to worry about the ones she loves in her life. She could master a “cold medium” like the metaphorical ice skaters who skate over the surface of their lives. She has a longing for this kind of life whenever she thinks about how fragile the ones she loves are in ‘Sometimes in Winter.’ “Winter” is a likely metaphor in this poem for darker times whenever the speaker finds herself consumed with worry.
Explore Sometimes in Winter
‘Sometimes in Winter’ by Linda Pastan is a short poem about the speaker’s interest in the different lives unattached people live.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker refers to those she loves and their “Fragile faces.” It becomes partially clear later in the poem that these people are likely her children. They are fragile in that they are easily broken and mortal, as all people are. If she were like the childless, the ice skaters who move over the surface of the ice, making the marks they choose to make, she might be different. They have a different kind of freedom. But, they work with a “cold medium.”
You can read the full poem here.
Stanzas One, Two, and Three
When I look into
The fragile faces
Of their own making,
In the first stanzas of ‘Sometimes in Winter,’ the speaker begins by thinking about the faces of those she loves. She doesn’t mention whether or not these are friends, family members, children, or some other group of people in her life. It is likely she’s thinking about everyone she cares about at that moment. They are “fragile,” she notes, a clear reference to their mortality and the fact that they are changing every moment just like she is.
Whenever she considers these ‘fragile” people in her life, she wants to be someone who is capable of skating “over the surface.” This is the beginning of an extended metaphor that compares a figure skater, or perhaps an ice dancer, to a certain type of person who is in control and careful. She wishes she could skate over her life, as they skate over their lives, making “patterns” of their own choosing. They control what patterns appear there through the direction they take on the ice skates.
Stanzas Three, Four, and Five
people who have
who are attached
The medium of cold
To dance in.
In the second half of the poem, the speaker brings the reader outside the skating metaphor to describe what kind of people she’s thinking about. These people “have no children” and are instead attached to the earth through the movement of their “silver blades.”
These people balance on a preverbal knife’s edge as they whisk themselves through their lives. They’ve mastered a different way of living, one that utilizes the “medium of cold / To dance in.” This may suggest that the speaker envies these peoples’ lives but, at the same time, sees them as living in a “cold” world, one that may not present the same warmth as that which she receives from children in her own life.
So, while she envies this kind of free and interesting life, she may also realize that there are possible downsides to it.
Structure and Form
‘Sometimes in Winter’ by Linda Pastan is a six-stanza poem that is divided into sets of three lines, known as tercets. These tercets are written in free verse. This means that the lines do not conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. End words like “into,” “faces,” and “love” (which are found in the first stanza) do not rhyme. The lines are also of different lengths and contain different numbers of syllables.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “fragile faces” in the first stanza and “skate” and “surface” in the second stanza.
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the second stanza as well as lines one and two of the third stanza.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. These should evoke an image in the reader’s mind and inspire them to use their senses. For example, “To the earth only by / Silver blades moving.”
- Metaphor: can be seen through the extended metaphor comparing a certain type of person to a figure skater or ice dancer. It is a comparison between two things that does not use “like” or “as.”
The tone is thoughtful and contemplative. The speaker spends the time dwelling on a particular way of living that she finds interesting.
The purpose is to explore a different way of living, without attachments and children, that the speaker envies when she sees the “fragile faces” of those she loves.
The speaker is someone who has children in their lives and “fragile faces” to care for. She is thinking about what it would be like to not worry about them and to live, instead, on the blade of an ice skate moving over a cold surface.
The meaning is that despite the love that someone has for those in their life, they may still find themselves envying a life without worry for those people. The freedom that unattached people have is something the speaker is interested in.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sometimes in Winter’ should also consider reading some other Linda Pastan poems. For example:
- ‘Imaginary Conversation’ – a poem that focuses on communication and longing to be free.
Some other related poems include:
- ‘The Colossus’ by Sylvia Plath – explores the poet’s relationship with her father. Through incredibly original imagery, her father is depicted as a fallen statue and her as his keeper.
- ‘Before the Birth of One of Her Children’ by Anne Bradsteet – a moving poem about a woman’s opinion on death. Inspired by her pregnancy, the speaker pens this epistolary to her husband.