Monday, February 08, 2016

`All Strange Wonders that Befell Thee'

Having been away from it for so long, I was reminded in Ontario that snow is also a verb. It makes a discernible knock as it hits the windows, pushed by the wind. It crunches with each step. The reflected glare blinds walkers and drivers. It powders the pines and, redundantly, the birches. An inch or so was all that ever accumulated, but its presence, its verbness, was never passive. In his Dictionary, Dr. Johnson offers among his definitions:

“To Snow. v.a. [verb active] To scatter like snow.”

We might say grated cheese snowed on the pasta. Or talcum powder snowed on the baby’s bottom. Or we might, more vividly and soberly, say with Donne, as cited by Johnson:

“If thou be’st born to see strange sights,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
`Till age snow white hairs on thee.”

Donne addresses a woman. In another context he might be speaking to any of us, especially the writers. Here are his subsequent lines:

“Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee.”

1 comment:

Denkof Zwemmen said...

No. Donne is not addressing a woman. Donne is addressing the reader. Considering the sense and tone of the poem and the fact that the imagined reader might be a wanderer, a life-long adventurer, someone who rides "ten thousand days and nights," there can be no doubt that Donne is speaking to a man. Basically, the poem is a complaint, from one man to another, about the inconstancy of women in general and Donne's particular lousy luck in that department.