Goodbye snow (reflections from MacNeice and Joyce)

The new Mr and Mrs Mark and Donna Watton share a romantic kiss amidst the snow

Today driving from my home village of Eglinton into Derry, the landscape took on a completely different appearance from the one it had donned only the day before. The snow had gone and in its place were much more commonplace muted green fields complete with haphazard muddy brown puddles.

But like the best things in life; although it’s gone, it’s nevertheless left an impression. Despite 2010’s record levels of snowfall, deep snow has always been a rarity in Ireland. So whenever I’m out and a flurry of snowflakes starts to fall, my brain can’t help but process its own tiny flurry of excitement. And that’s in spite of the logistical difficulties snow delivers in a country so unused to its presence – especially when as in my case, your sister happens to be getting married in the eye of a (snow) storm.

So in an ode to this meteorological oddity, which has given our family an once-in-a-lifetime wedding album, I wanted to include here my two favourite references to snow – by two stalwarts of Irish literature – naturally.

The first is the poem ‘Snow’ by Louis MacNeice and second is the concluding paragraph from the final short story entitled The Dead in James Joyce’s Dubliners.

The former is a vivid depiction of how snow reconfigures our perception of our world(s). From a landscape everyday and mundane, into one that literally sparkles. From a world that’s predictable, tarnished and dull, to one where anything could happen.

“Soundlessly collateral and incompatible” captures the hypnotic qualities of awe and silent reverence that snow creates when it falls. Like the extract from The Dead, it also illustrates the smallness of a solitary individual against a force that while it falls “softly,” falls persistently. So much so that it becomes the ‘great leveller’ of all of man’s endeavours; even annihilating our human distinction between the living and the dead.

It’s certainly prose that possesses all the beauty of poetry. But my aim here isn’t to write a poor-man’s GCSE style analysis, so instead I’ll leave you to your own thoughts.

Although on a lighter note, if I could make one contribution to Ireland’s snow-related discussion it would be the following. If anyone involved in journalism or sub-editing happens to read this, if you could promptly confine the hackneyed-beyond-all-measure headline of ‘ It’s snow joke’ to the dustbin of history, no doubt the citizens of Ireland – heirs of Swift, Wilde, Yeats et al, would be grateful beyond all measure.

Snow

By Louis MacNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

From James Joyce’s Dubliners:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

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