December 14, 2010

Moving Into Winter: Solstice Poems

There's an interesting astronomical coincidence on December 21, 2010. There will be a full moon on the day of the Winter Solstice.

I did some online searching for poems about both events combined, but couldn't find any. There are a large number of poems about full moons and solstices and winter, of course.

I wrote a post last year at this time, because we had another coincidence - a full moon to end 2009 on December 31, and it was also the second full moon of the month - so it was a "Blue Moon.”

Solstices have long been celebrated and written about. It is the shortest day of the year and the longest night, and it officially marks the first day of winter.

Solstices are one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years.

You probably know that many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The most famous example is the stone circles of Stonehenge which were placed to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.

We often see winter - in everyday life and in poetry - as a depressing time of year. Death symbolism abounds. At least in northern climes, you tend to be confined indoors. Outside looks bare and dead.

But solstice celebrations focus on hope with ithe reversal of shortening days. It is more seen as a time to celebrate the rebirth of the year.

The word solstice derives from Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) since to the ancients the sun did seem to stand still. In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses had meetings on the winter and summer solstice.

In many cultural histories, this is the time when virgin mothers give birth to sacred sons: Rhiannon to Pryderi, Isis to Horus, Demeter to Persephone and Mary to Jesus.

You can take a scientific look at the solstice. We know that as the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit, the north-south position of the Sun changes over the course of the year. That is because of the changing orientation of the Earth's tilted rotation axes with respect to the Sun.  When we arrive at the points of maximum tilt (marked at the equator), we get the summer and winter solstice.

This month our writing prompt is to write a poem that uses the solstice (and perhaps the Full Moon) without falling into the cliches of winter and moon symbolism.

Two of the poems I did find in my moon and solstice search are the models for our writing prompt for this month.

The first is "December Moon" from May Sarton's collection Coming into Eighty.

The second model is Mary Oliver's poem "Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh" (from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays)

With the busy holiday season and a late start with this prompt, I have moved the submission deadline a bit further into next month - Sunday, January 9.

Have a great solstice, winter, and new year!


piper said...

I've tried repeatedly over the last 12 days to access, but can't seem to do it. I've never had this problem in the past. I'd like to read the poems in response to the Moving into Winter prompt. Any suggestions?

Poets Online said...

Sorry,Piper. No explanation. The site has been up and running pretty consistently in 2011 (albeit the January updating of poems was a bit late...) I guess it's something on your end of the Net