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Home*Arts in Scotland*Literature*Features*Archive*Poem November 2009
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Featured poem - November 2009

This piece of writing was selected by the staff at the Scottish Poetry Library which receives Foundation funding from the Scottish Arts Council

The Winter Night

My love, the snow enfolds our policies,
The burn’s a thread of shadow under ice;
The track is blocked and frost has stilled the air,
Starlight has made the language of the night
Articulate as crystal. To the south,
Orion’s low amidst the frozen trees.
The water to the west’s a vacant plain,
And willows sink in ice beyond the island.
Above the runnel by the shadowed bank,
Your ferns have shrunk to frost flowers fixed in rime;
But hellebores grow in your sheltered garden,
Though all of Scotland’s motionless in cold.

Only our glasshouse flowers in paradox:
Citrons and olives, jasmine, passion flowers,
Defiant February Hesperides.
You know, in every instance, how to make
So little warmth and light defeat the dark.

In this dead season, box-knots come alive,
Their white formalities loveliest in snow;
Like the still orders of the Dutch parterres,
That bitter night of our first Leiden winter –
The students skating on the steel canals,
Bright-gilded globes and spheres above the spires –
And we by the café window, quiet together.

In the small garden-close against the house,
Our fruit-tree quincunx round the astrolabe
Whose golden arrow’s faint in silver light,
Bows leafless branches overborne by snow;
A memory of apple-counties where
We were so often happy in the south,
Amidst the silver rain and the broad trees.

You light snow-lanterns in the greatest cold,
So that one flame, refracted, lights a garden:
This is an emblem of all that you do.

Frost-powdered fields stretch up the slopes beyond,
Glimmer continuous with the plains of stars
Which wheel and turn above us. Midnight comes,
We sleep enfolded by the hills and snow,
At the heart of the garden, of the silent house,
Drifts and the dark piled heavy on the skylights,
We lie together here, will lie together so.

Peter Davidson

The Winter Night is no. VI of the Aberdeenshire Elegies series in his book The Palace of Oblivion (Carcanet Press , 2008)

About the poet

Peter Davidson

Peter Davidson was born in Scotland in 1957, and educated York and Cambridge.  He is currently Professor of Renaissance Studies and Scholar-Keeper of the University Collections at the University of Aberdeen. He has also held posts at St Andrews and Leiden.

His publications are The Idea of North (Reaktion: 2005) and The Palace of Oblivion (Carcanet: 2008).  He has written the libretto for one of Scottish Opera's short operas to be premiered next year.

Inspiration for the Poem

This poem is one of the Aberdeenshire Elegies at the end of The Palace of Oblivion, poems about place and history and a personal commitment to a place.  The poem is a celebration of a night of deep snow in a remote house in the north.

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