Today is the Winter Solstice and with it comes the official start of the longest (or so it seems) season of all. Although it really does seem like we’ve been in the thick of it for a little while, what with the plummeting temperatures, arctic winds and windows that drip with condensation greeting me each morning. Depending on which part of the UK you’re in, there’s a chance you’ve received your first flurry of snowfall. I know winter has really hit home when the heating system is switched on of a nightly basis and when I begin living in my biggest of jumpers and snuggliest of socks – and that has happened without me even realising.
So, this week’s featured poem has a wintry theme – although it’s the notion of an untold secret that arouses more interest. Yes, Christina Rossetti has certainly intrigued many with this poem and there have been any number of speculative guesses of what the secret she speaks of could possibly be. I have to admit that it was not what lay at the heart of said ‘secret’ that grabbed my immediate attention on first reading but the intertwining of the winter with the secret. The idea of keeping something secret seems to somehow fit quite comfortably with the season, with everything being wrapped up tight and hidden away more easily than it would usually be; the shawl, veil and cloak that Rossetti surrounds herself in keeps out the outer cold and protects the inner secret from the prying attention of others. Conversely, winter could also be the thing that threatens to expose a secret – note the draughts that ‘come whistling thro’ my hall…Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all’, as well as the mask that is worn for ‘warmth’ and perhaps too for self-preservation. I also just love the idea of a secret being frozen that appears in the third line and the image it conjures up, of something forever held as it is, unknown and producing an endless quest for knowledge from those who see it. Much like any singular poem, I suppose, whose meaning remains a secret to everyone but its author.
Rossetti keeps us hanging, never revealing her secret – or indeed confirming that there is one to begin with – just giving us an estimated time of when we may know more, far off into the summer months when things and people alike generally are freer. Winter is a time to keep things close to your chest, to gather all the warmth you can. I think that this poem exudes a playful energy in its teasing and ambiguity, and hope it serves as a winter warmer.
Winter: My Secret
I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows and snows,
And you’re too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell.
Or, after all, perhaps there’s none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today’s a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro’ my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave the truth untested still.
Spring’s an expansive time: yet I don’t trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro’ the sunless hours.
Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there’s not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)