Skip to main content
Updated date:

Original Poem: "A Book of Frost" with Commentary

Writing poetry became my major composing activity circa 1962, & Mr. Malcolm Sedam's creative writing class in 1963-64 deepened my interest.

Introduction and Text of "A Book of Frost"

My original poem, “A Book of Frost," plays out in a narrative declaration, following the character named "Winter Sprite," who later becomes "Mother of Light." Her greatest desire remains the ability to read the Book of Frost, with its foreign symbolism and language that Winter Sprite cannot read nor speak.

This fairytale-like narrative has Winter Sprite under the spell of the Santa Claus reindeer, Rudolph, of the Red Nose fame. The attraction is understandable; the deer has his special ability to light the way through the frozen darkness in which Winter Sprite, the reindeer, and Santa all live.

This poem moves slowly through the coldness and harshness of the metaphorical northern reaches of Earth life. Terms such as "slave," "cave," "gales," "chills," "stone," "pains," "crime," and "storm" pop from the page and point the reader in the direction of dark confusion, while other terms such as "joy," "tame," "folded hands," "temper," "glad," "fling," "light," and "form" offer hope to a well-lit mental locus and thus to a brilliant tomorrow.

A Book of Frost

The soul has put on many various masks on its sojourn as an entity. –Anonymous

Winter Sprite was ambling the air a slave
To circumstances she once deemed her joy.
New rime that lined the stillness of her cave
Fetched folded hands of time to hold her buoy.

If sudden gales mount rushing at her back
Forcing chills that numb her mind to stone,
She will tame and temper every track
And feel the fasting marrow of the bone.

With pains she strains aloof becoming strong
Yet slowly limns the glad road down to time
Where never any being can belong
Without a pardon for an unknown crime.

She is now slogging unbowed through each form:
Mother of Light remains safe from the storm.

(A slightly different version of this poem appears in my collection of poems titled Turtle Woman & Other Poems.)

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Reading of "A Book of Frost"

Commentary

The form of my original poem, "A Book of Frost," is a traditional Elizabethan (Shakespearean or English) sonnet. Its complex theme explores the ancient coming to light narrative; out of the bonds of darkness, the being learns new paths, new words, perhaps even a new language, all which hold secrets.

These profound secrets can change hearts and minds; they can even change names, as will be seen in the case of Winter Sprite, whose name changes, through brightness and crystalline goodness, into Mother of Light.

First Quatrain: Following the Red Light

Winter Sprite was ambling the air a slave
To circumstances she once deemed her joy.
New rime that lined the stillness of her cave
Fetched folded hands of time to hold her buoy

The free spirited Winter Sprite had become obsessed with Santa’s favorite reindeer Rudolph, and everywhere that Rudolph went Sprite was sure to follow. The red lantern nose served as a useful guide through the tundraic atmosphere.

Dark with many shames and mental traumas, that atmosphere remained a closed, dank, often hectic, weight that fastened itself to the tendrils of fledging ideas.

Birds of prey came looming and then with a puff of smoke dispersed into the night of sorrow. Winter Sprite continued her travels shouldering the clouds and breathing in the freshness of the burgeoning brightness of morning.

Winter Sprite’s elastic joy had once lay in worldly caves where she often sported with other sprites, but then Rudolph appeared, and she was blinded temporarily by the red light, but remembering that she did know how to pray, she folded her "hands of time" and felt level-headed for a time.

Centuries of poetry come streaming into her mind, while Winter Sprite flits from cave to cave, from ice floe to ice floe, dreaming of the meeting place where past, present, and future swallow secrets.

If she will but learn the secrets in the Book of Frost, no longer "walk[ing] the air a slave," she will emerge from the tracts of wisdom, free at least—all past burdens delivered into the future on the backs of pack animals, more capable than smoke of enduring the tribunal of discovery.

Second Quatrain: Freedom of the Sprite

If sudden gales mount rushing at her back
Forcing chills that numb her mind to stone,
She will tame and temper every track
And feel the fasting marrow of the bone.

Winter Sprite’s freedom may, however, bring her into the clutches of mystical earthy measurers. She may have to weather "sudden gales" that push her with cold fingers and stab her mind into obeisance. The chilling features will vaguely remind her of her inner powers, and as she employs each tool her path becomes more navigable.

She can ride the wind, if she chooses. She can choose freely, if she decides within the time-frame of split seconds. But those seconds may become thirds, fourths, and fifths in the rhythm of the river, under the stream of cloud mist, over the horizon of bountiful measure.

Losing her inner calm will still arise like birds on branches fleeing the northern winter dusk. Metaphorically and mystically, even as she soothes each prickly thought that pierces her brain, deep in her bones, she knows what she must do. And she must do what she knows, else all power will escape into the shafts of ice that limn the cave of sorrow.

Will she have the courage to give all her senses a rest, will she fast on myrtle and mire, or will she wait in the already humming engine of her past successes? Only the book of secrets holds the answers. She has yet to learn to read that book; its language holds her captive.

But her willingness to learn should guarantee her ultimate release. Until she can absorb all that knowledge, she can still rest in the arms of ignorance, and the minions of duty and responsibility will accompany her to each session of learning.

Third Quatrain: Learning against Time

With pains she strains aloof becoming strong
Yet slowly limns the glad road down to time
Where never any being can belong
Without a pardon for an unknown crime.

Having suspected that overcoming desire holds her only passport to the promised land, Winter Sprite signals her willingness to work out each feature that delivers pain. Her striving reveals strong muscles of intention, and her ability to walk in darkness allows her to forsake her addicted closeness with Rudolph.

Santa will praise her for returning to him his red lantern. The skies are now safe for travel in winter. Winter is now safe for the skies to wrinkle and wave the blue denim smiles of summer wind and autumn glimmering. The gold of desire lay buried beneath the diamond of intensity.

Winter Sprite is learning that any "unknown crime"—even if it is unknown to her deepest power—will be punished. She will not let circumstances hem her round. The depth of winters through which she "limn[ed] the glad road" has taught her more than the ability to fly and flit about unheralded.

She flits about open and free but aware that she still has miles to move before she rests. Her resting depends on more than envy and sugar-coated platitudes. She opens her folded hands to accept the challenges.

Couplet: The Language of Secrets

She is now slogging unbowed through each form:
Mother of Light remains safe from the storm.

Winter Sprite is is the process of learning the language of secrets; soon she will be able to read the Book of Frost. Its form will enchant her; its words of wisdom will enlighten her. She will fling her mind upon each page, where she will digest each thought with discernment.

Her "winter sprite" desires will fade into the tundraic madness. Her madness will evade the tundraic scope of the far reaching landscape, snow-deep in worries that will melt before the spring rains.

Each cold idea will place itself sphinx-like before her, and she will answer each riddle with an aphorism from the Book of Frost. The King of Snow Fields and the Queen of Ice Floes will anoint her, and "Winter Sprite" will change her name to "Mother of Light."

She will then dwell among beings whose joy, mercy, and holiness have succeeded in revising the Book of Frost into a Book of Light, and the dark winter night will hold Mother of Light in his arms, and she will take her comfort in eternal peace, having flung into form the light from the frost.

A Note to Readers: A Postmodern Sojourn

I often rant and rail against what I perceive to be the abject poverty of "postmodern poetry"–a few examples of which you may find here: Robert Bly’s "Cat in the Kitchen", Margaret Atwood's "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy", Carolyn Forché's "Poem for Maya", and Louise Glück's "Siren", and Barbara Guest’s "Red Lilies."

Now, however, I have also rethought the issue of postmodernism and declared that the movement does have at least one saving grace: its skepticism. However, until now I have not offered any examples of my original writing that I could, in fact, label postmodern and give it out as an example of which I approve.

I am now doing that with my original poem, "A Book of Frost," along with its commentary. I hereby proclaim that "A Book of Frost" is quite frankly an exquisite example of a postmodern poem. And its commentary is a piece of postmodern prose.

Commentaries on My Original Poems

My commentaries that accompany my own original poems are all, in fact, pieces of further creative writing; they do not function in the same manner nor with the same purpose that commentaries on other poet’s poems do.

In other words, I do not offer further information about my original poems for the purpose of elucidating meaning, that is, "explaining what I really mean." Those commentaries are simply reactions to the poems from a rhetorically prosaic perspective.

The commentaries in no way translate into prose the words and ideas of the poem—they simply react, respond, relive, and in some cases they may appear to be composing another poem, even as they begin and end in prose.

Rhetoric remains a human marvel, and the more the rhetorician engages the language, the more supple the mind of the rhetorician becomes in its facility with language use. That suppleness is the writer’s dream and the truth-teller’s goal.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles