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.



7 Responses to “Al Purdy’s Snow”

  1. Stacey Shubitz February 16, 2021 at 8:59 am #

    “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.”

    This doesn’t sound like the kind of gorgeous, relaxing snow that we have enjoyed here in the northeast a few times in the past couple of months. I heard the snow really messed things up in the Pac NW. That storm is coming our way on Thursday. YIKES!

    Stay safe!

    • Adrienne February 16, 2021 at 9:07 am #

      The funny thing is that school carried on Friday because we are still remote. It is canceled today because there are so many power outages. Stay safe!

  2. arjeha February 16, 2021 at 10:00 am #

    It s all about perception. Here we seem to be in a pattern of snow/ice/freezing rain every other day. We need to break this pattern!

  3. jumpofffindwings February 16, 2021 at 10:43 am #

    Love the Al Purdy poem…glad I live on the Oregon Coast, truly, where the thought of a “dusting” makes people shiver…with delight for its rarity. I love the last two lines, “infinite” and “transient” juxtaposed and think about how transience truly is an infinite reality.

    • carlambrown February 16, 2021 at 11:36 am #

      How simple and beautiful are the lyrics of your life.
      Your song, hinged to his own
      Makes a magical music all alone.
      The melody
      is lovely.
      Succinct,
      yet otherworldly.
      I enjoyed it terribly.

      ~Carla Michelle

  4. Lisa Corbett February 16, 2021 at 4:16 pm #

    It’s interesting to me that snow has such a dual personality – both beautiful and destructive. This poem captures that!

  5. Writing to Learn, Learning to Write February 17, 2021 at 4:01 am #

    What a great idea to take one poem about snow and then show an entirely different perspective! I’m sorry your snow wasn’t so peaceful and gentle. I hope you are OK.

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