Back in the December 2005 issue , we published a poem from the science-fiction writer Kevin Andrew Murphy. As I wrote at the time, the difference between good and bad may be larger in the sestina than in nearly any other form of structured verse: When sestinas are good, they are very, very good; and when they are bad, they are awful.
But Kevin managed to fall on the good side. His image, he told me, was an old Advent calendar with little windows that opened to show a scene from the seasonfive windows opening on five literary winter moments. I remembered the poem as I was walking home last night and thought our readers might like seeing it again:
Holy Holle, Mother Winter,
Shakes her eider till it flutters,
Till the ticking frees its feathers,
Drifting, shifting into snowflakes,
Soft as swansdown, slowly falling,
Blanketing the world in whiteness.
Robed in furs of spotless whiteness,
Rapt, the Snow Queen watches winter.
Glacial ice, her mirror, falling,
Shatters into shards: each flutters
Through the air; her splintered snowflakes
Fly, all fletched with freezing feathers.
Fairies paint the panes with feathers,
Frost the frames with hoary whiteness,
Limn the pines and posts with snowflakes,
Weave the world the gown of Winter,
Fragile lace, its frills and flutters
Fixed, all frozen water falling.
Ghosts of past and present falling
In with future float like feathers
Round the miser; each one flutters
Trailing winding-sheets whose whiteness
Rivals that of Old Man Winter,
Swirling, thick as churchyard snowflakes.
Standing stark amidst the snowflakes,
Faint, the Little Matchgirl, falling,
Strikes a match to ward off winter,
Sees it blaze like phoenix feathers,
Green and gold and Hope’s bright whiteness
Like a dying moth, it flutters.
Mary rides; her heart still flutters,
Though she does not know of snowflakes
Save a star whose wondrous whiteness
Blazes forth to stop man’s falling,
Heralds Hope like angel feathers
Left within her lap last winter.
Hope still flutters, icons falling,
Six-vaned snowflakes, Heaven’s feathers,
Stars of whiteness lighting winter.
Kevin Andrew Murphy