“clouds arranged like asphodel”: Janet McNally’s “Maggie Says There’s No Such Thing as Winter”

Janet McNally_Maggie SaysJanet McNally’s “Maggie Says There’s No Such Thing as Winter” is a gorgeous gem of a poem, tender and clear-eyed.

The speaker sits with Maggie in summer, under the shade of a tree, as Maggie strings blue stones together; Maggie has memory trouble (the language suggests she may have been in a coma), and has difficulty processing the speaker’s gentle descriptive reminder of the way seasons change, a change enacted in the poem itself, which begins with an invocation of winter (something I’m sure Ms. McNally, who teaches at Canisius College in Buffalo, knows a bit about) and then travels into summer and beyond.

This is a rather colorless description, I’m afraid, of a very fine poem. Here are my favorite lines:

She forgets that sometimes things don’t stay
where you leave them, that the sky fades

to white even before snow begins
to fall.

What’s your favorite poem about winter?

“Let now the chimneys blaze / And cups o’erflow with wine”

Here’s a poem to warm up with — Renaissance poet and musician Thomas Campion’s (1567-1620) “Now Winter Nights Enlarge”:

Now Winter Nights Enlarge

Now winter nights enlarge
    The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
    Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
    And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-turned words amaze
    With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
    Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
    Sleep’s leaden spells remove.
This time doth well dispense
    With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
    Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
    Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
    Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
    And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
    They shorten tedious nights.


I like the physicality of this poem, the concession that the chill and storms of winter require light, and wine, and company to be borne, even if “love and all his pleasures are but toys.”