Jane Kenyon, “Dark Morning: Snow”

Dark Morning: Snow (from Otherwise)
Jane Kenyon

It falls on the vole, nosing somewhere
through weeds, and on the open
eye of the pond. It makes the mail
come late.

The nuthatch spirals head first
down the tree.

I’m sleepy and benign in the dark.
There’s nothing I want…

Comment:

A landscape is pictured with three portraits within. First, there’s the field mice (“vole”) with snow-dusted fur, “nosing” for food until they – perhaps accidentally – reach an “eye.” Most, if not all, of the landscape is discussed with the vole. The vole is doing as it always does. That the mail comes late is an exception. Still, one might describe good letters as “nosing” until an “eye” is reached: when we find what entices us to respond, we reflect carefully and answer fully.

The nuthatch also does as it always does, to a degree. It is famous for diving headfirst. The tree feels separate from the rest of the landscape; incidentally, the nuthatch also sings. Here it sounds like it is looking for food, too.

Animal souls in places moving across or downward are contrasted with the all-too-human speaker. Is “in the dark” a place? The animal souls seem defined by motion, even as the landscape becomes still. Is human being that which can choose rest? That correspondence between one’s wants and a natural order (no-thing) might make us both “sleepy” and “benign.” Still, perhaps I said too much in mentioning “correspondence.” The speaker is waiting for some sort of message. The mail coming late and the singing that will come in another season strongly imply that we don’t simply let nature speak to us, for good reason. Our whole sense of “hearing” may be a process of listening and responding conditioned by interaction with other humans. Moreover, despite the wonderful placidness of this poem, there are strong overtones of death (no, I don’t want to get into when this poem was written in Kenyon’s life. You can look that up for yourself). The vole don’t have a terribly long lifespan; the nuthatch dives downward. “Nothing I want” recalls the 23rd Psalm, snow covers the landscape, and that pond literally reflects what is above it.

3 Comments

  1. I appreciate poems that are spare and compacted which somehow manage to pack a lot of activity into them. This lovely poem evokes images, feelings, experiences, remembrances.

    Thanks for sharing this with me, Ashok and for showing me how Kenyon approached the same topic as in my poem. BTW, loved your critique of it.

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