Monday, December 15, 2008


Warren Zevon, Winter Wonderland.
Blind Willie McTell, Cold Winter Day.
Neil Young, Winterlong.
Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond, Wintersong.
Nico, Winter Song.
Vashti Bunyan, If In Winter.
Lucille Hegamin, Cold, Cold Winter Blues.
Edith Wilson with "Doc" Straine, It's Gonna Be a Cold, Cold Winter.
The Durutti Column, Sketch For Winter.
Winterreise: Die Krähe.
Kokomo Arnold, Cold Winter Blues.
Blood, Sweat and Tears, Sometimes in Winter.
The Modern Jazz Quartet, Skating In Central Park.
Pytor Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker: Waltz of the Snowflakes.
Rev. Tom Frost, Frosty The Snowman.
Wizzard, Rock and Roll Winter.
Mrs. Jack Keating, How Cold These Winds Do Blow--The Wintry Winds.
Bob Seger, Vagrant Winter.
The Choir, It's Cold Outside.
Hüsker Dü, Ice Cold Ice.
John Lewis, December, Remember.
Elf Power, The Winter Is Coming.
Bert Jansch, In the Bleak Midwinter.
The Carter Family, When The Springtime Comes Again.

Rothstein, Iowa City in the Snow, 1940 (Shorpy)

Confusion of seasons is over.
Today was clear winter.
Light that on trunks seemed warm
Looked bleak and bare
On chill limbs high in chill air...

James Applewhite, River Writing: An Eno Journal.

In the year above mentioned
Near Christmas, the dead time
When wolves live on the wind
And men stick close to their houses
Against the frost, close by the blaze...

François Villon, "The Legacy" (trans. Galway Kinnell).

Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.

Thomas Campion, Third Book of Ayres.

Avercamp, Winter Landscape

Hermione: What wisdom stirs amongst you? Come, sir, now
I am for you again. Pray you, sit by us,
And tell's a tale.

Mamillius: Merry or sad shall't be?

Hermione: As merry as you will.

Mamillius: A sad tale's best for winter. I have one
Of sprites and goblins.

William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale.

The sun gone down. The crescent moon, Jupiter, and Venus. The sound of the sea distinctly heard on the tops of the hills, which we could never hear in summer. We attribute this partly to the bareness of the trees, but chiefly to the absence of the singing of birds, the hum of insects, that noiseless noise which lives in the summer air. The villages marked out by beautiful beds of smoke. The turf fading into the mountain road. The scarlet flowers of the moss.

Dorothy Wordsworth, journal, 23 January 1798.

They stopped and walked barefoot in the snowy field, shouting and laughing. Marcus threw himself down on the snow and stretched his arms out and said, "I am ready for Easter." Sukie circled, turned round and around in the field, her shadow hopping behind her, then in front of her. Marcus said, "She's dancing with crows."

Harold Brodkey, "The Abundant Dreamer."

Speaking of the cold, he said he had seen Fahrenheit’s thermometer, in Paris, at twenty degrees below zero, and that, not for a single day, but that for six weeks together it stood thereabouts. “Never once in the whole time,” said he, “so high as zero, which is fifty degrees below the freezing point.” These were his own words. He knows better than all this; but he loves to excite wonder. Fahrenheit’s thermometer never since Mr. Jefferson existed was at twenty degrees below zero in Paris. It never was for six weeks together so low as twenty degrees above zero. Nor is Fahrenheit’s zero fifty degrees below freezing point.

John Quincy Adams (irritated by Pres. Thomas Jefferson's frequent tall tales at dinner parties), diary entry of 11 January 1805.

Beside me Faxe of Otherhord spoke for the first time since the sound and splendor of the ship's descent. "I'm glad I have lived to see this," he said. So Estraven had said when he looked at the Ice, at death; so he should have said this night. To get away from the bitter regret that beset me I started to walk forward over the snow towards the ship. She was frosted already by the interhull coolants, and as I approached the high port slid open and the exitway was extruded, a graceful curve down onto the ice.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Cape Cod, way off season

Over the next few weeks the several squads of tourists in evidence on his arrival just disappeared. In the whole town only two or three restaurants stayed open for business, their windowpanes filmed with steam and bordered by grimy snow. Brief thaws came often, but Provincetown seemed, in general, arctic and bereft.

Denis Johnson, Resuscitation of a Hanged Man.

Once the bright days of summer pass by, a city takes on that sombre garb of grey, wrapt in which it goes about its labors during the long winter. Its endless buildings look grey, its sky and its streets assume a sombre hue; the scattered, leafless trees and wind-blown dust and paper but add to the general solemnity of color. There seems to be something in the chill breezes which scurry through the long, narrow thoroughfares productive of rueful thoughts...The sparrow upon the wire, the cat in the doorway, the dray-horse tugging his weary load, feel the long, keen breaths of winter. It strikes to the heart of all life, animate and inanimate...

If the various merchants failed to make the customary display within and without their establishments; if our streets were not strung with signs of gorgeous hues and thronged with hurrying purchasers, we would quickly discover how firmly the chill hand of winter lays upon the heart; how dispiriting are the days during which the sun withholds a portion of our allowance of light and warmth. We are more dependent upon these things than is often thought. We are insects produced by heat, and pass without it.

Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie.

Maris, Winter

The snow had been coming down for days, but in the morning it had stopped and now there was a strong wind. Here and there one could see a patch of black earth where the snow had been blown away; but the roof-tops were completely white, and even the wretched huts of the poor people were very pretty under their covering of snow, evenly lit by a pale moon as though they were thatched with silver.

I could see a lady who was covered in about eight layers of light violet, red plum, white and other robes; over this she wore a cloak of dark violet, which shone with a brilliant lustre...The lady had slipped into the back of the carriage to avoid the brilliance of the moonlight, but much to her embarrassment the gentleman now pulled her forward. Again and again he recited the words, 'Piercing cold, it spreads like ice.'

Sei Shōnagon, The Pillow Book.

I hate winter, the whole surgical tool kit of it: the scalpel snow, the retractor wind, the trocar darkness. I hate the snow, whether it's fluffy virginal or doggy urinal. I hate the inevitable harangues about how you lose 30, 50, 200 percent of your body heat through your head, because above all I hate winter hats and refuse to wear one.

Natalie Angier, The Canon.

Aftermath of ice storm, Geneva, 2005

The Great Frost was, as historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground. At Norwich a young countrywoman started to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the roofs as the icy blast struck her at the street corner. The mortality among sheep and cattle was tremendous. Corpses froze and could not be drawn from the sheets. It was no uncommon sight to come upon a whole herd of swine frozen immovable upon the road...

But while the country people suffered the extremity of want, and the trade of the country was at a standstill, London enjoyed a carnival of the utmost brilliancy. The King directed that the river, which was frozen to a depth of twenty feet and more for six or seven miles on either side, should be swept, decorated and given all the semblance of a park or pleasure ground, with arbours, mazes, alleys, drinking booths, etc., at his expense....

Here and there burnt vast bonfires of cedar and oak wood, lavishly salted, so that the flames were of green, orange and purple fire. But however fiercely they burnt, the heat was not enough to melt the ice which, though of singular transparency, was yet of the hardness of steel. So clear indeed was it that there could be seen, congealed at a depth of several feet, here a porpoise, there a flounder.

Virginia Woolf, Orlando.

Three people were gassed after the frost had burst mains and 20 others were taken to hospital. Workmen at three London power stations suspended their work-to-rule campaign, but much of the city was still blacked out and the Ministry of Works stopped the fountains in Trafalgar Square. Over 5000 children were sent home in Portsmouth, where twenty schools were closed because of frozen lavatories. Seagulls were frozen into the water in Pole Harbour.

The Guardian, 14 January 1963.

Wondrous things have come to pass
On my square of window-glass.
Looking in it I have seen
Grass no longer painted green,
Trees whose branches never stir,
Skies without a cloud to blur...

Frank Dempster Sherman, "Wizard Frost."

All through the morning the air was held in an ominous stillness. Sitting over my books, I seemed to feel the silence; when I turned my look to the window, I saw nothing but the broad grey sky, a featureless expanse, cold, melancholy. Later, just as I was bestirring myself to go out for an afternoon walk, something white fell softly across my vision. A few minutes more and all was hidden with a descending veil of silent snow.

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft: Winter.

Then came old January, wrapped well
In many weeds to keep the cold away;
Yet did he quake and quiver like to quell,
And blowe his nayles to warme them if he may;
For, they were numbed with holding all the day
An hatchet keene, with which he felled wood,
And from the trees did lop the needlesse spray:
Vpon an huge great Earth-pot stean he stood;
From whose wide mouth, there flowed forth the Romane flood.

And lastly, came cold February, sitting
In an old wagon, for he could not ride...

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene.

And the cold postman, with a rose on his button-nose, tingled down the tea-tray-slithered run of the chilly glinting hill. He went in his ice-bound boots like a man on fishmonger's slabs.

He wagged his bag like a frozen camel's hump, dizzily turned the corner on one foot, and, by God, he was gone.

Dylan Thomas, Child's Christmas In Wales.

Then wearily the footsteps worked
The hallelujah crowds

John Cale, "Child's Christmas In Wales."

Wyeth, Winter.

Too-Ticky rubbed her nose and thought. "Well, it's like this," she said. "There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that's a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don't fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything's quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep--then they appear."...

They went out on to the landing-stage and sniffed towards the sea. The evening sky was green all over, and all the world seemed to be made of thin glass.

"Yes, she's on her way," said Too-Ticky. "We'd better go inside."

Far out on the ice came the Lady of the Cold. She was pure white, like the candles, but if one looked at her through the right pane she became red, and seen through the left one she was pale green.

Tove Jansson, Moomintroll Midwinter.

Sohlberg, Efter Snestorm, Lillegaten Røros

It was an afternoon in January. For hours I had been trudging against a bitter winter wind awhirl with snow. Fatigue had set in--that leaden fatigue when the body seems to have shrunken; while yet the bones keep up a kind of galvanic action like the limbs of a machine. Thought itself--that capricious deposit--had ceased for the time being. I was like the half-dried mummy of a man, pressing on with bent head along an all but obliterated track.

Walter De La Mare, Ding Dong Bell.

Juno, who hates poets, called in Æolus to help her, and Æolus beat down upon us, with hail, and snow, and rain, and wind, and fog--now one--now all together. After the storm came a frost; snow and water froze into lumps and sheets of ice. The road became rough. The mud hardened into ridges. The trees were coated with ice. Some were split, others lost their branches from the weight of the water, which had frozen upon them. We rode forward as we could, our horses crunching through the crust at every step, and cutting their fetlocks as if with glass. Your friend Erasmus sate bewildered on a steed as astonished as himself. I cursed my folly for entrusting my life and my learning to a dumb beast.

Just when the castle came in sight we found ourselves on a frozen slope. The wind had risen again and was blowing furiously. I got off and slid down the hill, guiding myself with a spiked staff which acted as rudder. All the way we had not fallen in with a single traveller, so wild was the weather, and for three days we had not seen the sun.

Erasmus, letter to Lord Mountjoy, winter 1496.

Oh, the falling Snow!
Oh, the falling Snow!
Where does it all come from?
Whither does it go?

Eleanor Farjeon, "For Snow."

Bruegel the Elder, Winter Landscape With a Bird Trap

Let us walk in the white snow
In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
At a tranquil pace,
Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
And you in wool,
White as a white cow's milk,
More beautiful
Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon the white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
Wherever we go,
Silence will fall like dews
On white silence below.
We shall walk in the snow.

Elinor Wylie, "Velvet Shoes."

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry: Février

I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipped suns look sadly...

George Herbert, "Christmas."

The snow is beginning to fall, it is winter. I will spare you the shroud, it is simply the snow. The poor are suffering. The landlords often do not understand that.

On this December day, in the rue Lepic of our good city of Paris, the pedestrians are in more than usual haste, having no desire to stroll. Among them is a fantastically dressed man who is hurrying to reach the outer boulevards. He is wrapped in a sheepskin coat with a cap that is undoubtedly of rabbit-fur, and he has a bristling red beard. He looks like a drover.

Do not take a mere half-look; cold as it is, do not go on your way without carefully observing the white, graceful hand and those blue eyes that are so clear and childlike. It is some poor beggar, surely.

His name is Vincent Van Gogh.

Paul Gaugin, Intimate Journals.

Van Gogh, Paysage Enneige

The little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year...

Robert Frost, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."

By the time we got to Oslo,
the snow was gone.
And we got lost.
The beds were small,
but we felt so young.
It was just like Christmas.

Low, "Just Like Christmas."

83rd and First, Manhattan, 1996 (C.O.)

...the grass seems
to rise up &
cushioning bring down
the flakes:
as if a god slept hereabouts
and meant to make a winter
of his sleep

A.R. Ammons, Tape For the Turn Of the Year.

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl:
"Tu-whit, tu-whoo!" a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

W.S., Love's Labour's Lost.

Now the snow is falling, mama
oh, and it's falling fast,
Now the snow is falling, mama
oh, and it's falling fast,
I got icicles hanging
Down from my yes yes yes

Kokomo Arnold, "Cold Winter Blues."

Raeburn, The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch

The day is now beginning to decline. The mist, and the sleet into which the snow has all resolved itself, are darker and the blaze begins to tell more vividly upon the room walls and furniture. The gloom augments; the bright gas springs up in the streets; and the pertinacious oil lamps which yet hold their ground there, with their source of life half frozen and half thawed, twinkle gaspingly, like fiery fish out of water--which they are...

Midnight comes, and with it the same blank. The carriages in the streets are few, and other late sounds in that neighbourhood there are none, unless a man so very nomadically drunk as to stray into the frigid zone goes brawling and bellowing along the pavement. Upon this wintry night it is so still, that listening to the intense silence is like looking at intense darkness.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House.

Arcimboldo, Winter.

Mankind is in a position similar to that of a set of people living on a frozen lake, surrounded by cliffs over which there is no escape, yet knowing that little by little the ice is melting, and the inevitable day drawing near when the last film of it will disappear, and to be drowned ignominiously will be the human creature's portion. The merrier the skating, the warmer and more sparkling the sun by day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night, the more poignant the sadness with which one must take in the meaning of the total situation.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

They walked through the tracks of all the others in the snow, she gravely on his arm, wind blowing her hair to snarls, heels slipping once on ice. "To hear the music," he said...

The church is as cold as the night outside. There's the smell of damp wool, of bitter on the breaths of these professionals, of candle smoke and melting wax, of smothered farting, of hair tonic, of the burning oil itself, folding the other odors in a maternal way, more closely belonging to Earth, to deep strata, other times and listen...listen: this is the War's evensong, the War's canonical hour, and the night is real. Black greatcoats crowd together, empty hoods full of dense, church-interior shadows...

Advent blows from the sea, which at sunset tonight shone green and smooth as iron-rich glass: blows daily upon us, all the sky above pregnant with saints and slender heralds' trumpets. Another year of wedding dresses abandoned in the heart of winter, never called for, hanging in quiet satin ranks now, their white-crumpled veils begun to yellow...

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

James Joyce, "The Dead."


This recording of the late Warren Zevon, who is virtually exploding with Christmas spirit, is from a Kansas City concert, 20 November 1990 (complete show here); McTell's "Cold Winter Day," is from 1935 (on Statesboro Blues); "Winterlong," written by Neil Young ca. 1968 and originally slated for Tonight's The Night, finally wound up on Decade; "Wintersong" is off Mulligan and Desmond's Quartet LP, from 1957 (this is the first take--the CD includes another); Nico's own winter song, written by John Cale, is on 1967's Chelsea Girl.

The young Vashti Bunyan was winter-besotted, as she wrote a number of winter ballads over her short career--here is one from 1966 (from Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind); Lucille Hegamin and Edith Wilson were of the first generation of blues singers, those left in the shadow of Bessie Smith: Hegamin's "Cold Winter Blues," from 1923, is on Vol. 2, while Wilson's duet with "Doc" Straine, from '24, is on Edith & Lena Wilson Vol. 2; The Durutti Column's "Sketch for Winter," traces of light playing across an ice field, is from 1979 (The Best Of).

Schubert set his "Winterreise" song cycle (published 1827) to poems by Wilhelm Müller, one of which is "Die Krähe" (The Crow)--performed here by the collaborators and lovers Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, on this 1963 recording; Kokomo Arnold's "Cold Winter Blues," from 1935, is on Vol. 3; Blood Sweat & Tears' "Sometimes in Winter" is from their self-titled 1969 LP.

The "Waltz of the Snowflakes" ends the first act of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker (performed here by the Czech-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra). The MJQ's "Skating in Central Park" was recorded in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on 27 May 1960 (on Dedicated to Connie), while the Rev. Tom Frost cut "Frosty the Snowman" in the South of Hell, France, 2005.

Roy Wood and Wizzard's 1974 "Rock and Roll Winter" is on The Best of 1974-1976, while the mysterious Mrs. Jack Keating, of whom the world has heard nothing since, is on the 1958 LP Folk Songs of Ontario.

Hüsker Dü's "Ice Cold Ice" is from their last record, 1987's Warehouse; Bob Seger's "Vagrant Winter" is an early single he cut, desperately trying to sound like he wasn't from Detroit, in 1967 (not on CD); Cleveland's The Choir's "It's Cold Outside," from 1966, is on Teen Time; John Lewis' "December, Remember" is on his Evolution II, from 2001, one of this sad decade's finer records.

Elf Power's "Winter is Coming," from 2000, is the title track of that LP; Bert Jansch's "In The Bleak Midwinter" was a 1974 holiday single, unavailable on CD as of now. And "When the Springtime Comes Again" by The Carter Family, hoping for us all, can be found here.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all, as we desperately need one. Happy Hanukkah too. Kwanzaa, whatever else works.

So concludes our seasonals: in case you missed the rest, here are Spring, Summer and Fall.

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