MY WINTER ROSE
By Alfred Austin
Why did you come when the trees were bare?
Why did you come with the wintry air?
When the faint note dies in the robin’s throat,
And the gables drip and the white flakes float?
What a strange, strange season to choose to come,
When the heavens are blind and the earth is dumb:
When nought is left living to dirge the dead,
And even the snowdrop keeps its bed!
Could you not come when woods are green?
Could you not come when lambs are seen?
When the primrose laughs from its childlike sleep,
And the violets hide and the bluebells peep?
When the air as your breath is sweet, and skies
Have all but the soul of your limpid eyes,
And the year, growing confident day by day,
Weans lusty June from the breast of May?
Yet had you come then, the lark had lent
In vain his music, the thorn its scent,
In vain the woodbine budded, in vain
The rippling smile of the April rain.
Your voice would have silenced merle and thrush,
And the rose outbloomed would have blushed to blush,
And Summer, seeing you, paused, and known
That the glow of your beauty outshone its own.
So, timely you came, and well you chose,
You came when most needed, my winter rose.
From the snow I pluck you, and fondly press
Your leaves ‘twixt the leaves of my leaflessness.
Today poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here accordingly.
Alfred Austin (1835 – 1913) was an English poet and journalist who succeeded Alfred, Lord Tennyson, as poet laureate. His acerbic criticism and jingoistic verse in the 1870s led Robert Browning to dismiss him as a “Banjo-Byron,” and his appointment to the laureateship in 1896 was much mocked. He also published a series of stiff verse dramas, some novels, and a good deal of lyrical but very minor nature poetry. A patriotic poet of the most confident phase of the British Empire, his work lacked the resonance of Rudyard Kipling’s. (Annotated biography courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica, with edits.)
Editor’s Note: I love the use of metaphor in today’s poem, and the playful way language is paired with it. Moments like “And the year, growing confident day by day, / Weans lusty June from the breast of May.” I am taken, as well, by the allusion to the beloved, depicted as a winter rose arriving at what appears to be an inopportune time. But the poet eventually realizes that love–as it inevitably does–arrived exactly when it was most needed, occupying a space that had been waiting for just such an arrival: “You came when most needed, my winter rose. / From the snow I pluck you, and fondly press / Your leaves ‘twixt the leaves of my leaflessness.”