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Al Purdy’s Snow

16 Feb

In my last year of high school, a wonderful English teacher introduced me to the poetry of Al Purdy. My favorite poem, “Snow at Roblin Lake” came from his book The Cariboo Horses.

Snow at Roblin Lake

The exactitude of snow is such
that even the Eskimo
achieved mere mention of the stuff
with his 20 names for snow:

the woodpile slowly disappears
all colours blur to white
the shorelines fade to infinite
distance in the white night –

In fifteen minutes more the house
itself is buried deep
in half an hour the world is lost
on a lazy nebular dead end street –

My little lake is not a lake
but endless ocean where I’ll fish
some cosmic Tonga Trench and take
Leviathan on a bent pin –

We had a very different sort of snow experience in Portland over the weekend and that inspired me to reflect on how different my experience was to Al Purdy’s.

Al Purdy’s Snow

Al Purdy’s snow
was gentle –
falling softly,
slowly,
blanketing the world
in a layer of time
and silence.

My snow comes
in a rush,
covering a layer of ice
then, itself,
covered by another
layer of ice.

There is no silence
the next morning
as limbs fall from trees,
ice snapping,
sliding from roofs
in the sudden rush
of a rapid thaw.

In his snow,
Al Purdy saw the
infinite,
the cosmic.
In mine,
I see only
the transient.



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