I’m sure by this time of the year, pretty much everyone is sick of snow. Especially for those of you in the Northeast United States, it’s been a long, dreary winter. Yet, as we finally approach spring, I think it’s important to remember the good things about cold weather. I always enjoyed the snow when I lived in Connecticut, but since I moved to the South (where we had the first, and probably last, real snow of the year only two weeks ago) I appreciate it more than I used to. Snow always makes everything seem enchanted to me.
During our single, wonderful snowstorm, I was revisiting Percy Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry. This essay attempts to explain what poetry does and why it is so vital to our development as human beings. One line in particular has always stuck with me. Shelley writes, “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar; it reproduces all that it represents, and the impersonations clothed in its Elysian light stand thenceforward in the minds of those who have once contemplated them, as memorials of that gentle and exalted content which extends itself over all thoughts and actions with which it coexists.”
In other words, Shelley believes that the value of poetry lies in its ability to change our perspective. It gives us a means of seeing the world from somewhere far above our everyday lives, where the hidden connections and the beauty that underlies everything become apparent. This insight cannot be maintained for more than a moment or two, if we are lucky. But later, those of us who have experienced this feeling through the medium of the poem can recall it, allowing us to put our own lives in context, and perhaps to develop a deeper appreciation for the world around us.
But what does this have to do with snow?
Shelley says that poetry lifts the veil, and in many ways, the snow creates one. And yet, snow accomplishes the same thing as poetry – it makes us see the world in a new light, as a place filled with wonder. Snow is a great equalizer. It covers everything: natural and man-made, beautiful and ugly, alive and dead. It allows us to see the world connected under an unbroken blanket of white. In the same way, Shelley’s description of poetry as a means of revealing a deeper truth suggests that this underlying harmony can only be glimpsed by freeing ourselves from our preconceived, black and white ideas, and instead appreciating things as they are.
A simple tree branch becomes a piece of art under a delicate layer of snow, revealing the patterns of twigs and needles that we usually overlook. The normally chaotic world around us somehow coalesces into a unified whole. Fences, benches, even cars become unfamiliar, and somehow mysterious. This, I believe, is why I find winter so refreshing for the soul. Snow paints our everyday surroundings in foreign shades and textures, turning even the most insignificant object into a piece of art and bringing a sense of awe that we rarely experience after childhood. All we need is a change of perspective to remind us what a magical world we inhabit.
Certainly, after several days, when the snow is slushy and sullied, it’s hard to recapture the initial feeling of excitement at the beauty around us. After all, even poetry allows us to experience only a moment of joy and connection. But, we remember seeing the world through new eyes, and we carry that deeper knowledge with us as a renewed sense of wonder, waiting for the next time a poem or a fresh snowfall will carry us out of ourselves.