The poem is a wonderful example of how imagery can be used to the poet’s advantage. It’s hard to read this poem and not feel connected to the sights, sounds, and feelings the narrator conveys. He describes the ups and downs of winter in ‘Winter-Time’ while using literary devices like oxymora and personification.
Winter-Time Robert Louis Stevenson Late lies the wintry sun a-bed, A frosty, fiery sleepy-head; Blinks but an hour or two; and then, A blood-red orange, sets again. Before the stars have left the skies, At morning in the dark I rise; And shivering in my nakedness, By the cold candle, bathe and dress. Close by the jolly fire I sit To warm my frozen bones a bit; Or with a reindeer-sled, explore The colder countries round the door. When to go out, my nurse doth wrap Me in my comforter and cap; The cold wind burns my face, and blows Its frosty pepper up my nose. Black are my steps on silver sod; Thick blows my frosty breath abroad; And tree and house, and hill and lake, Are frosted like a wedding-cake.
‘Winter-Time’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a beautiful poem about the winter season. It uses a variety of interesting images to depict the cold and snow.
The poem starts off with the speaker describing how the sun spends far too few hours awake during the winter. It rises, is warm for an hour or two, and then sets again. He uses personification in order to depict this occurrence, and others, within the confines of the poem. The speaker describes how hard it is to get up during this time of year and the way that a single candle does nothing to warm him. When he goes outside, his nurse wraps him up in numerous pieces of clothing, and he can observe the snow-covered landscape. The poem ends with a simile comparing these sights to a frosted wedding cake.
Structure and Form
‘Winter-Time’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a five-stanza narrative poem. The lines follow a simple and easy-to-analyze rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD, and so on, changing end sounds as the stanzas progress. The lines mostly contain eight syllables, but that is not consistent throughout the entire poem. There are a few moments where readers can find fewer or more syllables per line.
Throughout ‘Winter-Time,’ 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, “frosty, fiery” and “colder countries.”
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet creates particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Close by the jolly fire I sit / To warm my frozen bones a bit.” Examples like this should trigger reader’s senses and help them imagine a scene in great deal.
- Personification: occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, describing the sun as “A frosty, fiery sleepy-head” that “Blinks but an hour or two” before setting again.
- Juxtaposition: can be seen when the poet places two contrasting ideas, things, or experiences next to one another. For example, “wintery sun” and “frost, fiery sleep-head.”
- Oxymoron: there is a great example of an oxymoron in stanza four of ‘Winter-Time.’ In these lines, the poet describes the cold wind “burn” his face. Here, he’s using two opposite words that should be contradictory but actually help to convey a very specific experience. There is another example in the second stanza when he writes, “By the cold candle.”
Stanzas One and Two
Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.
Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.
In the first stanza of ‘Winter-Time,’ the speaker begins by noting that during the winter, the sun, like a sleepy person, stays in bed for a long time. Then, when it does wake up, it only shines a light on the world for an hour or two before going back to bed. This is a creative way of using personification to describe how the sun rises and sets during winter. It’s also clear from these first lines that the speaker wishes the winter was different and that he could enjoy more heat and light throughout the day.
In the second stanza, he goes on to add that the dark lasts so long that the stars are still in the sky when he rises or when he gets out of bed. It’s a hard process, one that many different readers are likely going to be able to relate to. It’s always cold, and he has to shiver as he bathes and dresses. There is a great example of an oxymoron in this stanza when the poet writes “cold candle.” These are two juxtaposing terms but make the point that the one candle he has gives out so little heat that it might as well be cold.
Stanzas Three and Four
Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.
When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.
In the third stanza, the speaker personifies the fire as “jolly” and uses more language that makes it quite easy for readers to envision the scenes he is experiencing. During the winter, he sits near the warm fire or steps outside and is wrapped up, by his nurse, in his “comforter and cap.” It’s with this line that readers might consider who the speaker is. Often Stevenson wrote with young readers in mind or even from the perspective of a child. It would make sense that these lines are coming from a child’s imagination. They’ve quite vibrant and interesting. There is also a whimsy to them that feels youthful.
Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.
In the final four lines, the speaker describes what it’s like to step outside and see his own frosty breath. It blows “abroad,” and all around him are sights over with white snow. He compares them to a wedding cake covered in white frosting.
The speaker is likely a young boy who is spending time thinking about the winter and what his experience of it is like. He outlines his thoughts throughout the five lines, using easy-to-understand language and clear imagery.
The purpose is to convey the feelings one experiences on a winter morning and the speaker’s desire for more warmth in place of the shivering cold. The sense-imagery in this poem is quite effective and allows the reader to feel like they, too, are there with the speaker.
The tone is descriptive and considerate. The speaker looks at winter from different moments in his life. He is able to describe, with clarity, the process of getting up in the morning and its difficulties, as well as what it looks like outside.
Personification is used in the first lines when the speaker describes the sun as a sleeping person who wakes for a couple of hours before going back to bed. It also appears in the third stanza when the fire is described as “jolly.”
Readers who enjoyed ‘Winter-Time’ should also consider reading other Robert Louis Stevenson poems. For example:
- ‘My Shadow’ – is told from the perspective of a child who is trying to understand what purpose his shadow serves.
- ‘Rain’ – taps into themes of nature and universal human experiences.
- ‘Swallows Travel To and Fro’ – demonstrates through his speaker how everyone, no matter where they live can relish their relationships through nature.