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Poster poems: Wind


It's whistling through all of our lives at the moment, so can you make it sing in poetry?

After weeks of storms rolling in off the Atlantic it's beginning to feel like the world is made of little else but wind. Power lines have come down with alarming frequency, uprooted trees block roads, and sleep is broken by noises that most closely resemble an express train screaming past the bedroom window being chased by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

With all this atmospheric activity going on, my thoughts have turned to the poetry of wind, a more extensive genre than you might at first think. Perhaps the best-known example is Ode to the West Wind, Shelley's meditation on the relationship between prophecy and poetry and on his own relationship with the cycle of life and death, decay and growth represented by the temporal sequence of the seasons. Just now the poem's conclusion, "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" can't help but seem a shade optimistic.

Another much-quoted wind poem is Shakespeare's Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind, from As You Like It. This is a poem of banishment, sung in the play by Lord Amiens who has chosen exile with his Duke over life under the corrupt regime that has seized power in their native city, and is a meditation on human fickleness, which is portrayed as being harsher than even the coldest wind.

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Fragment 3: Come, come thou bleak December wind, the wind represents a death that the poet welcomes like a lover, in a characteristically densely-knit skein of images. The poem shows Coleridge at his most despondent. The speaker in John Masefield's Watching by a Sick-Bed, on the other hand, is witnessing a fight between life and death in which he's hoping for a victory for the former. Again the wind stands for death and the land it batters stands for life, and the speaker is left to ponder why these two great forces expend such energy in combatting each other.

Indeed, in all of these poems the wind is forced to represent things other than itself, but Christina Rossetti, in Who Has Seen the Wind, is happy to allow it to simply be itself, invisible but powerful and seen by its effects on the world it passes through. It's a conceit that is further extended by Robert Louis Stevenson in The Wind where he writes "I saw the different things you did,/ But always you yourself you hid." From the child's-eye view of the poem's narrator, the wind is a playful if invisible fellow youngster. We seem to have travelled some distance from Shakespeare, though he, too, stressed this unseen aspect of the wind's nature.

Wind Song by Carl Sandburg is a prose-poem about conquering the problem of sleeping in the wind. It's a useful skill and one I'd love to master. Unfortunately Sandburg, being a poet, isn't entirely clear as to how it's done. Nevertheless, the image Sandburg evokes of the wind as both miser and wastrel, "counting its money/ and throwing it away" is one that is not easily forgotten.

The last poem I'd like to mention in this short selection of wind-related verse is the medieval Westron Wynde. I don't have much to say about it beyond mentioning, perhaps not for the first time, that it is one of the most perfect short lyric poems in the language, perhaps in any language.

And so we begin the second century of Poster poems challenges with an invitation to write poems on that most topical of topics, the wind. Whether you like it or loathe it, see it as a destroyer of sleep or just an impersonal force of nature, there's really no avoiding wind at the moment, so why not share your poetic responses to it here?

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