Lines for Winter by Mark Strand

IMG_2558.JPGfor Ros Krauss
Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.


Mark Strand died this past week at the age of 80 though he, and the poetry he produced across many decades, seemed timeless. If you came of age in the 1970s as I did, he was one of the demigods in the poetry firmament. Tall, lean, silver-haired in later years and shockingly handsome, he couldn’t help but be a commanding presence at readings and parties, though he seemed oblivious to the attention he generated. His spare, deceptively simple lines had a way of snapping back at you, whip-like, reminding you that nothing is ever what it seems.

Along with all the other important awards, he won a Pulitzer Prize for Blizzard of One in 1999, was the nation’s Poet Laureate, a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and a noted translator, editor, and prose writer. He had originally hoped to be an artist, and toward the end of his life he started to create collages. The last time I heard him read, several years ago, he claimed that what he’d been writing recently wasn’t poetry. “I’m not sure what it is,” he said. When he began to read, a dog who had been sleeping nearby, climbed up on the couch beside him and sat, listening intently, his gaze never leaving the poet’s face. Strand had a wonderful speaking voice — slow, rhythmic, and precise.  We were mesmerized by his words (whatever he chose to call it, they sounded like poetry), and by the fact that his powers to enchant so clearly reached beyond the realm of the humans in the room.

For more poems by Mark Strand, please click here:


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2 Responses to Lines for Winter by Mark Strand

  1. His death, along with Kinnell’s a few weeks ago, and Maxine Kumin this past February, makes me think of Berryman’s poem, Dream Song 36:

    The high ones die, die. They die. You look up and who’s there?
    –Easy, easy, Mr. Bones. I is on your side.
    I smell your grief.
    –I sent my grief away. I cannot care
    forever. With them all again & again I died
    and cried, and I have to live.

    A generation of very fine poets is slipping from our midst.

    • Liza says:

      Thanks, Patty. The Dream Songs — so wise and angry at the same time! Almost all the great ones we came up with are gone now. We’re so lucky to have what they left behind for us to remember them by.

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