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 Theme 13: The Seasons
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Poem 13: Winter >
poem, commentary, analysis, exegesis

<      William Shakespeare     >


Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565

Love’s Labours Lost (1598, 34)
Act V, Scene ii

composed around 1594, 30

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;
When blood is nipt, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl
Towhoo!
Tuwhit! towhoo! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all around the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw;
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl -
Then nightly sings the staring owl
Towhoo!
Tuwhit! towhoo! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Keel the pot : cools the pot by stirring in something cold.    Blows his nail : blows on his hands to keep them warm.    Saw : saying    Crabs : crab apples

Commentary, analysis, criticism, exegesis

Very symmetrical composition this: eight lines per stanza of eight syllables per line, though the rhyme scheme could be considered exotic by comparison. In terms of emphasis, the first line has three and line seven has five, while all the rest have four. The effect of the five syllable line is to make us wait for the dénouement, dwelling on the 'Towhoo! Tuwhit! Tuwhoo', of which the speaker may make a little song and dance, an owl effect, before launching rapidly into the final line, which descends from these heights of poetic achievement (the owl dance) through the auspices of greasy Joan and into the pot.

This little poem oozes charm with its well observed domestic and countryside detail. Eight images in the first stanza, seven in the second, with two repeated between the two stanzas. In general, three images are sufficient to set the scene. Here we have thirteen. The brain goes into overload. But each image is as pleasant and evocative as the previous. Yes, it's almost a Christmas card!

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