Solitude in Winter

After the winter festivities and celebrations that mark dark December, what helps you get through the cold days of January, February, and March? Or, if you live in Wyoming, November through April?

George Meredith

A poem that was written long ago by George Meredith (1828–1909), the British writer and poet, made me think about pausing to enjoy winter instead of pining for summer. He lived in the countryside of Surrey in Flint Cottage on Box Hill, and the quiet beauty of nature shines forth in many of his poems. One acquaintance noted that Meredith’s neighbors appreciated his knowledge of the area, and saw him as something of an expert on local plants and trees (William Sharp, “The Country of George Meredith” first published in Pall Mall Magazine, 1904, republished in Selected Writings of William Sharp, Volume IV, New York, Duffield & Company, 1912). Another scholar of Meredith tells us that “…he delighted to take long brisk walks-’spins,’ as he called them-along the highways and the byways of the neighborhood; and he loved to wander through the woods, and to lie in the grass….” (p. 58, George Meredith in Anecdote and Criticism, by J.A. Hammerton, New York, Mitchell Kennerley, London: Grant Richards, 1909). 

“Winter Heavens”

Did a wintry walk inspire this particular poem? “Winter Heavens” was first published in 1888 in the poetry collection titled A Reading of Earth (London, Macmillan and Co. and New York, 1888). It can also be found in a collection published the following year, The Nature Poems of George Meredith with illustrations by William Hyde (Westminster, Archibald Constable & Co., 2 Whitehall Gardens, 1898). Here is the entire poem: 

Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive 

Leap off the rim of earth across the dome. 

 It is a night to make the heavens our home 

More than the nest whereto apace we strive. 

Lengths down our road each fir-tree seems a hive, 

 In swarms outrushing from the golden comb. 

They waken waves of thoughts that burst to foam: 

The living throb in me, the dead revive. 

Yon mantle clothes us: there, past mortal breath, 

 Life glistens on the river of the death. 

It folds us, flesh and dust; and have we knelt, 

Or never knelt, or eyed as kine the springs 

Of radiance, the radiance enrings: 

And this is the soul’s haven to have felt. 

Gifts of Winter

What gifts can long winter nights (and short winter days) give to us? The stillness and darkness of the winter season can help us observe our surroundings with heightened awareness. Long after the warmth of festive bonfires dies down, we find ourselves in the perfect environment for nurturing a small flame of contemplation and creativity to sustain us till spring. A winter walk sharpens the senses as you hear the crunch of snow, feel the tingling of skin, and see your breath. Just like the heightened awareness that winter brings, solitude can bring a sharpness of thought if you sit with it long enough. 

If you welcome solitude, and the quiet that winter brings, even if momentarily, you might find yourself feeling at peace with the world and your place in it. Perhaps a contemplative winter walk can help sustain us through the darkness. What will you choose to fill the space that the quiet of a winter evening brings? I hope to carve out some time to have a long winter’s walk, by myself, and contemplate “the stars with frost alive” and all that I am grateful for in the past year.

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