It's been well below freezing in my part of New England this week, with attendant snow and ice and blasts of arctic air. My heating bills don't bear thinking of, and I've been wearing about fifteen layers and still can't get warm. (Though it could be worse. I could be living in Minnesota.)
So certain poems have been in my head lately. Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man," especially, and Thomas Hardy's "Snow in the Suburbs." But today I thought of W. H. Auden's "Brussels in Winter," which I first encountered ages ago in one of my favorite classes. And then I couldn't get it out of my head, so here it is:
Wandering the cold streets tangled like old string,
Coming on fountains silent in the frost,
The city still escapes you; it has lost
The qualities that say "I am a Thing."
Only the homeless and the really humbled
Seem to be sure exactly where they are,
And in their misery are all assembled;
The winter holds them like the Opera.
Ridges of rich apartments rise tonight
Where isolated windows glow like farms:
A phrase goes packed with meaning like a van,
A look contains the history of man,
And fifty francs will earn the stranger right
To warm the heartless city in his arms.
—W. H. Auden