poem poemlet Poetry

A New Winter Poemlet

We were schlepping through the deep snow on the trail near our house a few weeks ago, and it was as if the whole world was twinkling and flickering with light – bluish flashes in the heaps of snow, the glass-like shine of icicles, and then, at night, the strange, phosphorescent glow made by the snow reflecting the the sky and the clouds. It reminded me of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and I made this up as we walked along, so high art it ain’t:

 - By a Bear of Little Brain

Twinkle, twinkle, snowy drift - 
Like a special Christmas gift.
Over sleeping shrubs you lie,
Filled with stars dropped from the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, banks of snow -
smoothly spreading as you grow.
Over frozen ground you pour
like the waves that foam ashore.

Twinkle, twinkle, icicles 
From the eaves you hang like firs.
To the ground you drop like blades,
tinkling icy serenades.

Twinkle, twinkle, golden night
When the snow’s the only light.
Each tree has its own halo
of a luminous snow-glow.

A pain-in-the-butt structure

This little rhyme consists of 16 heptasyllabic (7-syllable) lines in 8 couplets (rhyme scheme AA-BB, etc.), arranged in 4 quatrains (4-line verses). Talk about convoluted. Is anything in poetry ever simple? No, not even Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, on which I based it, which was written in 1806 – yes, it’s that old.

It was written as a poem, then published as a children’s song, by English poet Jane Taylor and her sister Ann Taylor. They based their song on the 18th century anonymous, and strangely philosophical, French folk song, Ah vous dirai-je, Maman (meaning “Oh! Shall I tell you, Mama”).

I was finishing off this poemlet and wondering why on earth it was giving me grief. I kept getting the syllable count wrong. It turns out that what makes the Taylor sisters’ little song more complex than it appears at face value, is that each line is heptasyllabic – only 7 syllables, not 8.

When W.A. Mozart was about 25 years old (1781 or 1782) he wrote a piano composition based on this melody, Twelve Variations on Ah vous dirai-je Maman, Köchel Catalogue 265/300e. Right from the start, you can hear that the first 3 lines of his variations has 8 notes each, not 7, with the last note of each phrase doubled. The 4th line has 7 notes. Later on he dispenses with the seven-note structure altogether.

I suspect Mozart did that to fit it into a 4/4 time signature. I’m still trying to figure out why music is generally measured in the Base 4 – Quarternary – numeral system, in other words, common time. Another problem, for another time…

Have a listen to the composition as performed by Simone Renzi:

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Retrieved from Wikipedia on Feb. 6, 2023
A colour photo, that I took without a flash, of our backyard in the middle of the night. There are no other visible lights – that light sky is the snow glow, and everything has this exact colour (a sort of washed-out “octarine”).

1 comment on “A New Winter Poemlet

  1. “Washed-out octarine” – 🥰 Die afgelope winter in South Carolina het ek na sneeu verlang…

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