|by Claude McKay|
I Throughout the afternoon I watched them there, Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky, Whirling fantastic in the misty air, Contending fierce for space supremacy. And they flew down a mightier force at night, As though in heaven there was revolt and riot, And they, frail things had taken panic flight Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet. I went to bed and rose at early dawn To see them huddled together in a heap, Each merged into the other upon the lawn, Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep. The sun shone brightly on them half the day, By night they stealthily had stol'n away. II And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you Who came to me upon a winter's night, When snow-sprites round my attic window flew, Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light. My heart was like the weather when you came, The wanton winds were blowing loud and long; But you, with joy and passion all aflame, You danced and sang a lilting summer song. I made room for you in my little bed, Took covers from the closet fresh and warm, A downful pillow for your scented head, And lay down with you resting in my arm. You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day, The lonely actor of a dreamy play.
This felt like the perfect poem for a New Year's Day -- snow settling in on the front lawn, memories of the past year inescapable, but prepared to face whatever 2013 has to come. It's beautiful and heartbreaking, about melting snow and lost love -- not exactly the things that will make this New Year bright, I suppose -- but something about it gives me hope.
Although Claude McKay was writing during the Harlem Renaissance, which means some of the language is less accessible for middle schoolers (they always get stuck on things like "stol'n" and "ere"), I think all it will take is a few reads for them to get used to the flow of this writing and get to the meaning. This would be a great poem to use when extending conversations about how poets use metaphors.