I am a sojourner on the earth, hide not from me Thy commandments. My soul hath longed to desire Thy judgments at all times. ….. Remove from me reproach and contempt, for after thy testimonies have I sought. For princes sat and they spake against me, but Thy servant pondered on Thy statutes. For Thy testimonies are my meditation, and Thy statutes are my counsellors. My soul hath cleaved unto the earth; quicken me according to Thy word. ….. My soul hath slumbered from despondency, strengthen me with Thy words.
This morning I had a date to iron altar cloths at church. If it hadn’t been for that, I think I might have read poems all day. Bright and early I found myself listening hungrily to The Daily Poem podcast, which I sometimes ignore for weeks at a time. Today, by contrast, its offerings seemed like my necessary food, cultivating hope and peace in my heart the way bodily exercise generates endorphins for the brain and psyche.
Not all poems are tasty, but even the bitter ones supply certain kinds of trace elements, hints and explorations of the worlds that lie underneath the clamoring and crowded surfaces where we walk every day. I like very much the engagement with the poets themselves, people who often do appreciate the mystery of things, but I usually avoid long poems. These very short poem podcasts help me to focus and enjoy works I might not normally read, even some longer poems; because it’s all auditory, and I can’t see how long of a poem or portion will be read, and be put off by it.
Today one of the podcast hosts, Heidi White, talked about the poem “Velvet Shoes,” by Elinor Wylie. She told us about her own longing, two days after Christmas, for peace and quiet, after the busyness of the holiday, and how this poem conveys the heaviness of the snow, and how that heaviness creates silence and a kind of weighty peace, “…the feeling you get going into the nave of a great cathedral.”
Let us walk in the white snow In a soundless space; With footsteps quiet and slow, At a tranquil pace, Under veils of white lace.
I shall go shod in silk, And you in wool, White as white cow’s milk, More beautiful Than the breast of a gull.
We shall walk through the still town In a windless peace; We shall step upon white down, Upon silver fleece, Upon softer than these.
We shall walk in velvet shoes: Wherever we go Silence will fall like dews On white silence below. We shall walk in the snow.
-Elinor Wylie, 1885-1928
The longing expressed in the few stanzas is impressive. We do start to wonder if the narrator will break out of the future tense and make it the present. Personally, I think that if she were truly hopeful of walking in the whiteness, she would do the activity first, and then write about it. Unless it is a sort of love letter, to someone not present at the moment. It seems to be as much about longing — and maybe purity? — as it is about snow.
The Daily Poem hosts talked to me about several other poems as I was getting dressed, by W.H. Auden, Edward Thomas, George Santayana and Mary Oliver. Of course, many of the recent offerings have been autumnal or Advent-themed poems, but I enjoyed them all. I may save some to post here in the appropriate season next year.
“Velvet Shoes” may have especially impressed me because I am anticipating walking in the snow myself this week, if my plans work out to visit Pippin. And here I was, just yesterday, going on about fire and warmth….
I always think I do not want to visit snowy and cold places, but whenever I do, it’s fun. Did you notice that in spite of the narrator’s silk and lace garments, there is no mention of the cold? That might mean that it is just the poem for me!