Throughout the centuries, countless poems have included winter imagery in their poems as a contrast to the warmth of love. Perhaps these poems call upon something primal and ancient in all of us, as humans have been hiding from the harsher elements of the world since we were hunter-gatherers. Curling up with a lover seems like the perfect antidote to a winter storm. In "Oranges," the budding relationship between the speaker and his love interest causes him to feel confident at the end of the poem. This confidence is demonstrated by the orange in his hand, which glows so brightly against the winter landscape "as if [he] was making a fire in his hands" (55). On this page, you will see several love poems that use the motif of winter to emphasize the theme of love.
In the first poem, "Sonnet 97," William Shakespeare likens the speaker's longing for his lover to the harshness of winter.
How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December's bareness everywhere!
And yet this time remov'd was summer's time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lord's decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem'd to me
But hope of orphans and unfather'd fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.
In Shakespeare's poem, the speaker compares his lover's absence to the coldness of winter: "What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen! / What old December's bareness everywhere!" (4-5). The speaker associates his lover with warmth, telling the beloved that "summer and his pleasures wait on thee" (11). In this poem, as in "Oranges," the weather outside takes on a symbolic meaning. It is likened to the distance between two individuals. For Shakespeare's speaker, this is a bleak and disastrous time, where even the birdsong outside sounds wrong.
In the following poem by Hayden Carruth, titled "The Curtain," the winter is less menacing and instead brings the speaker and his beloved together.
Just over the horizon a great machine of death is roaring and rearing.
We can hear it always. Earthquake, starvation, the ever-renewing sump of corpse-flesh.
But in this valley the snow falls silently all day, and out our window
We see the curtain of it shifting and folding, hiding us away in our little house,
We see earth smoothened and beautified, made like a fantasy, the snow-clad trees
So graceful. In our new bed, which is big enough to seem like the north pasture almost
With our two cats, Cooker and Smudgins, lying undisturbed in the southeastern and southwestern corners,
We lie loving and warm, looking out from time to time. "Snowbound," we say. We speak of the poet
Who lived with his young housekeeper long ago in the mountains of the western province, the kingdom
Of cruelty, where heads fell like wilted flowers and snow fell for many months
Across the pass and drifted deep in the vale. In our kitchen the maple-fire murmurs
In our stove. We eat cheese and new-made bread and jumbo Spanish olives
Which have been steeped in our special brine of jalapeños and garlic and dill and thyme.
We have a nip or two from the small inexpensive cognac that makes us smile and sigh.
For a while we close the immense index of images that is our lives—for instance,
The child on the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico sitting naked in 1966 outside his family's hut,
Covered with sores, unable to speak. But of course we see the child every day,
We hold out our hands, we touch him shyly, we make offerings to his implacability.
No, the index cannot close. And how shall we survive? We don't and cannot and will never
Know. Beyond the horizon a great unceasing noise is undeniable. The machine,
Like an immense clanking vibrating shuddering unnameable contraption as big as a house, as big as the whole town,
May break through and lurch into our valley at any moment, at any moment.
Cheers, baby. Here's to us. See how the curtain of snow wavers and then falls back.
In this poem, the speaker and the beloved are closely intertwined—for much of the poem the poet and the beloved are a "we" who live their lives side-by-side. The tension in this poem comes from the outside world—more specifically, the evils of death, capitalism, and imperialism—which the speaker and his beloved are insulated from in their winter valley. However, by the end of the poem, the speaker brings himself even closer to his beloved, knowing that "the great machine of death" (line 1) can come for them "at any moment, at any moment" (line 22).
In this third poem, Kenneth Patchen uses the motif of winter to explore the themes of love, war, and God.
The Snow is Deep on the Ground
The snow is deep on the ground.
Always the light falls
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.
This is a good world.
The war has failed.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the snow waits where love is.
Only a few go mad.
The sky moves in its whiteness
Like the withered hand of an old king.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the sky knows of our love.
The snow is beautiful on the ground.
And always the lights of heaven glow
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.
Like "The Curtain," the winter is a positive presence in this Patchen poem. It reminds the speaker of God. This poem was written at the end of the Second World War, and the speaker responds to the tragedy of that war by reveling in the beauty of life: his love, winter, and God.
As you can see, despite the fact that all of these poems are about love and winter, they deal with these elements in extremely different ways. This is the beauty of poetry: every poet endeavors to talk about the human condition and they use elements that we all can relate to, which often includes the weather. Nevertheless, every perspective is different, and different poets can manipulate these elements in new and exciting ways. Try your hand at writing a winter love poem. How will winter work in your poem? Does it convey longing or awkwardness, as it does in Shakespeare's and Soto's poems, respectively? Or does the winter evoke closeness between the lovers, as it does in the Carruth and Patchen poems?