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Finding Relief in Poetry's Icebox

07/31/2011 10:27 am ET | Updated Sep 30, 2011

After suffering through the brutal heat wave that sat intractably on New York last weekend, these 90-degree days are a relief. Still, I've had enough of the rattle of air conditioning and of nights sleeping on top of the sheets. I find myself lying awake yearning for some of the sweet, cold plums that William Carlos Williams left in the icebox, wishing I could invoke the cold as Shakespeare did in As You Like It, "Blow, blow, thou winter wind."

So here, for all of you fellow summer sufferers, are four very cold poems that might help you imagine some relief from the heat (and distract you from the fact that it isn't even August).

In a letter to his friend Benjamin Bailey, John Keats famously wrote that he was certain of the truth of the imagination. And you can't help but feel a real chill in the opening lines of his poem "Eve of St. Agnes":

St. Agnes' Eve - Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith.

And how could one think of cold poems without Robert Frost coming to mind -- last name aside, he was a great poet of winter. In the middle of summer, his poem "Dust of Snow" is particularly striking.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Wallace Stevens' poem "The Snow Man" captures the cold and emptiness of winter both in the landscape and in the human mind.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Finally, you might meditate on this haiku by Matsuo Basho, a Japanese master of the form. As with all great haiku, it resonates well beyond its three lines.

Awakened at midnight 

by the sound of the water jar 

cracking from the ice

Now, so long as we don't wake up to the sound of our AC unit cracking, we just might make it to September.

Feel free to add your own cold poems in the comments section below.

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