It Was Winter
Winter came as it does in this valley.
After eight dry months rain fell
And the mountains, straw-colored, turned green for a while.
In the canyons where gray laurels
Graft their stony roots to granite,
Streams must have filled the dried-up creek beds.
Ocean winds churned the eucalyptus trees,
And under clouds torn by a crystal of towers
Prickly lights were glowing on the docks.
This is not a place where you sit under a café awning
On a marble piazza, watching the crowd,
Or play the flute at a window over a narrow street
While children’s sandals clatter in the vaulted entryway.
They heard of a land, empty and vast,
Bordered by mountains. So they went, leaving behind crosses
Of thorny wood and traces of campfires.
As it happened, they spent winter in the snow of a mountain pass,
And drew lots and boiled the bones of their companions;
And so afterward a hot valley where indigo could be grown
Seemed beautiful to them. And beyond, where fog
Heaved into shoreline coves, the ocean labored.
Sleep: rocks and capes will lie down inside you,
War councils of motionless animals in a barren place,
Basilicas of reptiles, a frothy whiteness.
Sleep on your coat, while your horse nibbles grass
And an eagle gauges a precipice.
When you wake up, you will have the parts of the world.
West, an empty conch of water and air.
East, always behind you, the voided memory of snow-covered fir.
And extending from your outspread arms
Nothing but bronze grasses, north and south.
We are poor people, much afflicted.
We camped under various stars,
Where you dip water with a cup from a muddy river
And slice your bread with a pocketknife.
This is the place; accepted, not chosen.
We remembered that there were streets and houses where we came
So there had to be houses here, a saddler’s signboard,
A small veranda with a chair. But empty, a country where
The thunder beneath the rippled skin of the earth,
The breaking waves, a patrol of pelicans, nullified us.
As if our vases, brought here from another shore,
Were the dug-up spearheads of some lost tribe
Who fed on lizards and acorn flour.
And here I am walking the eternal earth.
Tiny, leaning on a stick.
I pass a volcanic park, lie down at a spring,
Not knowing how to express what is always and everywhere:
The earth I cling to is so solid
Under my breast and belly that I feel grateful
For every pebble, and I don’t know whether
It is my pulse or the earth’s that I hear,
When the hems of invisible silk vestments pass over me,
Hands, wherever they have been, touch my arm,
Or small laughter, once, long ago over wine,
With lanterns in the magnolias, for my house is huge.
Czeslaw Milosz's Other Poems
Read this poem in other languages
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.
Comments about this poem (It Was Winter by Czeslaw Milosz )
(1 February 1902 – 22 May 1967)
(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
(12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973)
(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
(September 25, 1930 – May 10, 1999)
(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892)
(10 December 1830 – 15 May 1886)
Edgar Allan Poe
(19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849)
William Butler Yeats
(13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)
(26 April 1564 - 23 April 1616)
- Dreams, Langston Hughes
- As I Grew Older, Langston Hughes
- I Dream A World, Langston Hughes
- Still I Rise, Maya Angelou
- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
- Mother to Son, Langston Hughes
- I, Too, Langston Hughes
- Daffodils, William Wordsworth
- Tonight I can write the saddest lines, Pablo Neruda
- Suicide's Note, Langston Hughes
Poem of the Day
- Many Third-Classers, Bijay Kant Dubey
- As A Man, I Hate The Fanatic The Most, Bijay Kant Dubey
- Bapu, In Your Memory, Bijay Kant Dubey
- The Mirth of William, James Merchant
- -Untitled- (2), Morgan Siegel
- The Short Ballad of Egg Boy, James Merchant
- Logic in Life, Jayatissa Liyanage
- - Lady Andrea on the meadowland, Giorgio A. V.
- Lady Andrea on the meadowland, Giorgio A. V.
- Let Us Go for a Walk, Valsa George