‘Winter‘ by Walter de la Mare is a short three-stanza poem that is divided into sets of six lines, or sestets. Each of these sets of lines follows a specific rhyming pattern, ababcc, that changes according to the poet’s word choices. The poet has made use of a number of poetic techniques, the most prominent of which is repetition. There are a number of instances in which the speaker reuses, or repeats a phrase or word for emphasis or as a reminder to the reader that they are in the depths of winter.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a robin that is flying up from the “misty” dell into the air. The robin provides a flash of bright red that contrasts with the blinding white of a snow-covered forest. It also serves as proof, and a reminder of, the life that exists beneath the snowfall. The landscape is exceedingly calm and this small disturbance, “rare.”
The speaker continues on to describe the way that the light from the moon and stars, which have fully taken over the sky, is reflected off of the forest plants. It is like there is a fire burning within their leaves.
The poem concludes with a number of references to the constellations that hang in the sky above the scene. The speaker mentions Ursa Major, Orion, and “the North,” or North Star.
Analysis of Winter
And the robin flew
Into the air, the air,
The white mist through;
And small and rare
The night-frost fell
Into the calm and misty dell.
The speaker of this poem begins by casting the reader into the middle of a winter scene. This scene, at least on the surface, appears to be completely pristine. Through the few details that the speaker provides the reader is able to perfectly imagine the place described, from the animals that survive in the cold, to the immense sky towering above the landscape.
In the first stanza of the piece, the speaker begins with a small, intimate part of the winter landscape. He describes the sight of a “robin” and how it flies “Into the air, the air” and through the “mist” that is covering the ground. This burst of bright red contrasts interestingly against the flat white covering of snow that one will come to imagine there. The robin represents the life that remains in the landscape, and how even when all seems frozen over, animal and plant life lives on.
In the second half of the stanza, the poet begins to zoom back from his focus on this one particular animal, to the land that directly surrounds it. The bird is flying within a “calm and misty dell.” The poet has chosen to reuse the word “misty” in this stanza, he is seeking to emphasize the calm, seemingly lifeless landscape. This bird is both “small” and “rare” in its presence here. This is of course due to the weather at this time of year and perhaps also the presence of any onlookers.
Night is coming for this “misty dell,” or small forest valley, and it will bring more beautiful imagery.
And the dusk gathered low,
And the silver moon and stars
On the frozen snow
Drew taper bars,
Kindled winking fires
In the hooded briers.
In the second stanza, the speaker seeks to pull back even further from the initial viewing point of the robin. The perspective will continue to widen as the poem continues until the poet has painted a full picture of what winter is in this place, from the small and rare to the “sprawling.”
The speaker begins this section by stating that “dusk” has gathered low on the horizon. The light of the day is at its last, and night is about to fully take over the sky. The “silver moon and stars” are clearly visible “on the frozen snow.” The light from these faraway sources is drawing lines on the ground in amongst the snow.
The light from the moon and stars is also cast on the “hooded briers,” or shrubs, in the forest. The light glimmers on their leaves and makes it seem as if “winking fires” are raging amongst them.
And the sprawling Bear
Growled deep in the sky;
And Orion’s hair
Streamed sparkling by:
But the North sighed low,
“Snow, snow, more snow!”
In the final stanza of the poem the speaker pulls back to his furthest distance and describes the sky and elements of the earth. He casts his gaze up to the silver stars in the sky and sees the “sprawling Bear.” In this line, the speaker is referring to the constellation of Ursa Major, or Big Bear. It appears so real to him at this moment it could be “Growl[ing]” in the “deep…sky.”
In addition to Ursa Major, he is able to see the constellation of Orion, which appears as a hunter. It is one of the clearest, most recognizable constellations in the sky. The speaker states that he can see “Orion’s hair / …sparkling by.” This gives the impression that time is passing, the sky is moving overhead, and perhaps, the speaker is thinking, winter is coming to an end.
The final lines prove the narrator wrong, as “the North,” a reference to the North Star, “sigh[s],” saying that there will be “Snow, snow, more snow!” Winter is not yet over, there is still much to come and many days of cold left to endure.
Throughout this piece, the poet paints the winter season as both a good and bad thing. He is able to see the beauty in it, but also the stark, seemingly endless, nature of the days.
About Walter de la Mare
Walter de la Mare was born in April of 1873 in Charlton, Kent, England. As a young man, he was educated at St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir School in London. He began his working career in the offices of the Anglo-American Oil company, specifically, in the department statistics. He would work there from 1890 until 1908. His job prospects changed after the publication of his first volume of poetry, Songs of Childhood, which appeared in 1902. After its publication, he was able to devote himself almost exclusively to writing due to a government pension.
His first novel was published in 1904 and it was followed by another collection of poems, entitled, Poems, in 1906. He would go on to write a number of other novels as well as collections of short stories for both adults and children. After a successful career, he was made a Companion of Honor in 1948 and later received the Order of Merit.
Walter de la Mare died in June 1956 in Twickenham, Middlesex. He is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.