It is winter and the brisk cold is here
A serious, cautious time of the year
Not a day of fluffy, falling snowflakes
Or a snowman day that a child makes
It’s not a day of melting, slushy snow
With dirty snow banks everywhere you go
The temperature has suddenly dropped
Everything is still as if all is stopped
The air all around has that funny hue
Often reflecting those colors of blue
Outside, its frigid, sharp and breath-taking
So cold that one instantly starts shaking
The danger can be felt in the still air
Such feeling reinforces to take care
No sunshine is seen or shows its bright face
Instead the freezing air takes its own place
The fear of the cold can be seen in trees
Frozen still, but creaking with the iced breeze
Branches are void of any signs of life
Like a battle scene, but lacking the strife
The darkened branches stark against the snow
Rattling its twigs with each wind that does blow
The temperature is below zero
Its existence is now everyone’s foe
Winter is here and showing its power
Over everything its threat does tower
Ekphrasis or ecphrasis is the graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art. In ancient times it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, ‘out’ and ‘speak’ respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name.
Ekphrasis may be encountered as early as the days of Aphthonius‘ Progymnasmata, his textbook of style, in Virgil’s Aeneid when he describes what Aeneas sees engraved on the doors of Carthage’s temple of Juno, or Homer‘s going to great lengths in the Iliad, Book 18, describing the Shield of Achilles, exactly how Hephaestus made it as well as its completed shape. The fullest example of ekphrasis in antiquity can be found in Philostratus of Lemnos‘ Eikones which describes 64 pictures in a Neapolitan villa.
A major poem of the English romantics — Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats — also furnishes us with a beautiful example of the artistic potential of ekphrasis.
Ode on a Grecian Urn
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunt about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.