When men were all asleep the snow came flying,

In large white flakes falling on the city brown,

Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying.

Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;

Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs falling;

Lazily and incessantly floating down and down

Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;

Hiding difference, making unevenness even,

Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.

Robert Bridges (1844-1930)

Awaking this morning to see snow slowly drifting down I turned to thinking of how snow affects our thoughts, ideas and perceptions.

Snow in winter gives the opportunity for fun for the more energetic, for those born in temperate climes where snow is not a regular event even a light covering invites the young to rush out, build snowmen, toboggan and generally have fun. For those whose years are lengthening snow becomes a little more perilous and not to be welcomed especially when it freezes and turns to ice. Visually, snow imparts a glowing white beauty to the landscape, clean, clear, crisp vast expanses of white shine through the winter day and glow in the moonlight of a winter night.

However as with all things there is another side to this beauty, snow can be used to portray malevolence and pure evil. In his well-known works CS Lewis starts his books with the mythical land of Narnia trapped in 100 years of winter by the White Queen.

The snow does not thaw, the ice does not melt making food gathering difficult and travel well-nigh impossible. Speeding through the landscape on a sled the White Queen freezes all in her path and it is the work of the children to start the thaw, to melt the snow and ice so that the world might return and emerge into spring. Of course, these are allegorical tales of myth but although we might enjoy a short period of snow when we can enjoy sport and play it is with a sense of relief when the snow thaws and days begin to warm.

Snow falling as blizzard can blind us, once settled it can dull our senses; as humans we are not well suited to cold and snow, only certain members of the animal kingdom can really be said to be ‘at home’ in the snow and they live where the snow rarely departs. Those parts of our world where snow is perpetual, places of enchantment and wonder, of perilous cold and of dread and fascination.

As our world changes, as change it must, we seem to see less snow than of old, even in our own lifetimes the cycles of the year change, no longer are frost fairs held on the river Thames in London, no longer can we look forward to White Christmases although these have always been rare, indeed what we now term as snow events seem to be very localised and in these places more intense and severe, places where the distinction between the pleasure and the pain of snow is lightly balanced. Writing in the 15th c. Francois Villon reminds us that the changes we see all around us are not new, he writes

Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan? (But where are the snows of yesteryear?)

Francois Villon (b.1431) Le Grand Testament, Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) talks of ‘The Frolic Architecture of the Snow’, perhaps a slightly fanciful view but looking out at the snowfields at the extremities of our world snow does indeed impart an architectural shape to the landscape.