Sonnets for Five Seasons by Anne Stevenson

Sonnets for Five Seasons

by Anne Stevenson
Anne Stevenson
(i.m. Charles Leslie Stevenson, 1909-79)

This House

Which represents you, as my bones do, waits,
all pores open, for the stun of snow. Which will come,
as it always does, between breaths, between nights
of no wind and days of the nulled sun.
And has to be welcome. All instinct wants to anticipate
faceless fields, a white road drawn
through dependent firs, the soldered glare of lakes.

Is it wanting you here to want the winter in?
I breathe you back into your square house and begin
to live here roundly. This year will be between,
not in, four seasons. Do you hear already the wet
rumble of thaw? Stones. Sky. Streams. Sun.
Those might be swallows at the edge of sight
returning to last year’s nest in the crook of the porchlight.


‘Dear God,’ they write, ‘that was a selfish winter
to lean so long, unfairly on the spring!’
And now — this too much greed of seedy summer.
Mouths of the flowers unstick themselves and sting
the bees with irresistible dust. Iris
allow undignified inspection. Plain waste
weeds dress up in Queen Anne’s lace. Our mist-
blue sky clouds heavily with clematis.

‘Too much,’ they cry, ‘too much. Begin again.’
The Lord, himself a casualty of weather
falls to earth in large hot drops of rain.
The dry loam rouses in his scent, and under
him — moist, sweet, discriminate — the spring.
Thunder. Lightning. He can do anything.


The wet and weight of this half-born English winter
is not the weather of those fragmentary half-true willows
that break in the glass of the canal behind our rudder
as water arrives in our wake — a travelling arrow
of now, of now, of now. Leaves of the water
furl back from our prow, and as the pinnate narrow
seam of where we are drives through the mirror
of where we have to be, alder and willow
double crookedly, reverse, assume a power
to bud out tentatively in gold and yellow,
so it looks as if what should be end of summer —
seeds, dead nettles, berries, naked boughs —
is really the anxious clouding of first spring.
…’Real’ is what water is imagining.


Before the leaves change, light transforms these lucid
speaking trees. The heavy drench of August
alters, things; its rich and sappy blood
relaxes where a thirst ago, no rest
released the roots’ wet greed or stemmed their mad
need to be more. September is the wisest
time — neither the unbearable burning word
nor the form of it, cooped in its cold ghost.

How are they sombre — that unpicked apple, red,
undisturbed by its fall; calm of those wasp-bored amethyst
plums on the polished table? Body and head
easy in amity, a beam between that must,
unbalanced, quicken or kill, make new or dead
whatever these voices are that hate the dust.

The Circle

It is imagination’s white face remembers
snow, its shape, a fluted shell on shoot
or flower, its weight, the permanence of winter
pitched against the sun’s absolute root.

All March is shambles, shards. Yet no amber
chestnut, Indian, burnished by its tent
cuts to a cleaner centre or keeps summer
safer in its sleep. Ghost be content.

You died in March when white air hurt the maples.
Birches knelt under ice. Roads forgot
their ways in aisles of frost. There were no petals.

Face, white face, you are snow in the green hills.
High stones complete your circle where trees start.
Granite and ice are colours of the heart.

Anne Stevenson, “Sonnets for Five Seasons” from Poems 1955-2005. Copyright © 2005 by Anne Stevenson. Reprinted with the permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd.

Source: Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe Books, 2005)

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