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IMPRESSIONS OF WINTER¹

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The Database of Ornament

A BLEAK day in the beginning of winter which
has come over the land with showers and fitful
gusts. With a sudden whistling sound these
showers and gusts make themselves heard, dying
away again with long-drawn, rasping soughs,
like the falsetto tones of an old worn-out singer.
The sky is greyish blue, with here and there a wandering cloud,
which borrows a yellow glare from the sun’s glory.

On the horizon a faintly undulating line denotes the limit of a
mass of violet-grey clouds. In this deep bed the tempests go
to rest after their distant raids, when they have chased before
them the last stricken leaves; raised in yellow nebulous whirls
the sand of the downs to a fearful height; swept the foam of
the sea like a snowstorm of large, bewildering flakes; and
ruthlessly whistled through the branches of the trees which
shiver in their nakedness.

Now, however, the fury of the wind, that, after the calm death
of autumn, rode on the wings of the tempest to sway sky and
earth, has spent itself. Yet, every now and then, swelling
gusts, like the last breathings of an exhausted wrestler, gasp
through the air, curling the while the steel-blue water into
gentle ripples.

¹Translated by the author from his Dutch originals.


                                          23

Over the river the sea-gulls are flapping their wings; or, with
stiff stretched pinions skimming the surface, they glide slowly
into the water. Some of them for a while soar in stately circles
through the sky until they suddenly shoot down, their bills
stretched forward, describing a slight perpendicular in the air.
Their hoarse shrieks mingle with the groanings of the wind
as from time to time it rises.

But at nightfall birds and gusts are hushed, and the water is
lying in dead calm under the deep red glare of the sinking sun.


                                          II

The sun has burst forth. By the intense glow of his pomp of
rays he has in the morning overcome the cold, pale hosts of
nebula and triumphantly entered the high-roads of the sky
which open in blue splendour for his jubilant march. Now,
ruler of the skies, he casts his dazzling brilliancy upon the
hoary snow-sheets of the earth.

The sky is streaked with long-drawn feather clouds like unto
the tender down on a dove’s neck. Layers of them glide over
each other and lie in a rising undulation on the dull blue, like
great palms of peace.

A subtle, tremulous, transparent haze appears on the horizon.
Without absorbing the forms, it pleasantly softens all sharp
outlines in its dreamy embrace.

The cart-ruts, glittering in the sunlight, run in two parallel
lines over the hard trodden road ; and on either side, from the
tops of the trees, in the silence of the calm, and the splendour
of the gently loosening sun, small white flakes of rime slowly
descend.

The row of gradually undulating hills, sloping away into the
distance, bright in places with grey uneven snow-plots, looms
in the shadowy violet dimness against the sun-drenched haze.
Before the walker’s feet small crested larks, plump and tame,
hop about, every now and then flying short distances and
boring into the hardened layer of snow. Greedily they peck

                                          24
with their little bills, these tiny town-marauders tamed by
winter.

The steam-tram, with a hollow rattling, rushes along the
glittering rails. For a considerable time its crest of steam
remains hanging in the white net of branches, entangled in
them like a flimsy cobweb veil. The impetuous bound of its
course sends a short shudder through the tawny, withered
oak-groves by the roadside, startling them for a moment from
their rigid repose.


                                          III

A hazy sun-blot, dimly shimmering like tarnished brass, is
lingering still in the western sky. Beneath it stretches a
narrow band of yellow-red, whose hues gradually fade and
dwindle, passing on either side into pale grey. On the lower
skirt of the sky, descending to the earth, is seen a purple-grey
pile of clouds, upon which the trees of the horizon — faint,
spectral skeletons, misty like the images of a dream— raise their
lank shapes.

On the left, by the side of the fading edges of the bright band,
there appears, only just perceptible against the almost equally
tinted sky, the ridge of hills ascending and descending in even
slopes. The hills themselves have a more compact, purplish-
grey tint.

Further down, interrupted here and there by a projection, and
grooved with ditches, which glare yellow-light in the monotony
of the white expanse, like tramrails lit by the fiery eyes of the
engine, a great white plain extends as far as the main road.
The bark of the birches, at other seasons so glittering, appears
sallow and dull amidst the snow accumulated around the tree-
roots, and their overhanging, hairy boughs, delicately twined
against the grey-blue upper sky, move with a faint quiver.

At some distance stands a grove of fir-trees, those harps of the
winter wind, when with a wailing rustle he sweeps through
their stately branches.

Toy-like, as if a child at play had placed them at random,
white-roofed cottages far away lie scattered.


                                          25

And, in the foreground, close to the road, the faint gleam of the
dying sun, wearily descending into a pile of clouds, glides over
the silent, velvety snow-field.


                                          IV

Brightly the sun has its play on the blanched plain ; when the
radiant sunlight meets the crystals, thousands of diamonds
sparkle up out of the white monotony. Then their facets
glitter in lustrous splendour like the clear touches of the sun
on a sheet of water, and all the wide white surface is alive
with a tremor and gleam of radiance which seems to shoot up
and hover in the air, filling all the broad expanse of ether with
an aureole of crystalline scintillation.

In some places a broad stream of golden light flows over the
snow-field, while the shadow of a slight cloud suddenly passing
over it dims, as if suffused with a breath, the dazzling splendour
of white and crystal. And round the blue-grey range of hills on
the horizon, above which the sun spreads its lustre, a golden
band runs like a diadem around the head of some stern old
king.

The snow crackles under the feet, and the winter wind sends
its low-moving gusts over the landscape. On every side, as
far as the eye reaches, snow, snow, snow. Everything is white
except part of the trunks of the trees, and the walls of the farm-
houses standing out like dark blots of shadow between the
sparkling white of the snow and the sparkling blue of the sky.
So, surrounded by winter’s jubilee, inhaling the cold, dry,
subtle air, and crushing the frozen snow under my feet, I
proceed. The snow creaks and crepitates, and, after my
treading it down, remains flat on the ground with a last half-
groaning sigh, as if it would reproach me with violating its
white smoothness and disturbing its icy repose. My cheeks
feel the pure, ice-cold breeze, the blood-strengthening, nerve-
bracing exhilaration, the fresh essence of winter.

And, walking on, I come to an orchard whose trees are wholly
white, the trunks painted white by human hands, the branches

                                          26
and twigs hoar-frosty by the work of winter, so prodigal of
white. One of them is strangely formed, like a hunch-backed
dwarf, with its fantastically distorted, undergrown trunk, and
its branches horribly wrenched and twisted, like the massive
white skeleton of some wondrous monstrosity which has lost
itself and wasted away in a winter garden of fairyland.

And with every strong gust of wind a shower of white, tiny
flakes comes down from the trees. First they hover hesitat-
ingly in the air, hanging ‘twixt heaven and earth, then slowly
descend and quietly settle down on the ground.

Heavily thundering over the groaning rails, a long railway train
is with violent puffs of steam just slowly passing by the barrier.
First the steam shoots straight up into the air like a nebulous
geyser-spout, a fountain of sun-golden mist, whose extremities,
hued with fire-yellow topaz, encircle a nucleus of dull amethyst.
And, suffused with light, slowly the steam-cloud extends, but
continues lingering over the dark train, that, with grim grinding
of axle-trees and perches, creeps slowly along.


                                          V

Faintly blows from afar the winter wind, with long-drawn
breathings, that cause an idle flapping of the withered leaves
against each other as they whizz among the sere-leafed shrubs.
Slowly the rime-laden branches of the fir-trees, stretched out
like solemnly blessing arms, are moving up and down.
Upon all the country the thick winter fog has settled, weighing
down everything with its mass of moisture, vaporising the
distant trees, and absorbing the thin extremities of the branches
in its densely clinging veil. Dreamily the white roofs of the
farm-houses dwindle in the mist. Cold grey, the sky vaults
the tawny land.

Leaning against a hill, and looking like grotesque giant-crests,
the black-green pine-trees stain dark tints in the white. The
slender entwined twigs of the hedge, set with pure rime,
resemble a broad lace garniture fringing the snow-covered

                                          27
ground. And beyond there is everywhere the close mantle of
snow, uneven with trees and slightly waving stems, decked
with wind-blown, fine, white-feathered plumes, clothing the
ribbed bands of the earth.

In a fallow field, working the hard frozen soil, men come into
sight. With long-drawn strokes of the mattock one of them
sturdily loosens the stubborn glebe. With their spades others
are throwing the sandy lumps in heaps, and darkly they stand
out against the whitish background like dim magic-lantern
shadows, cast by a faintly burning wick. Under the fog,
which dims the objects and penetrates them with its chill,
wet breath, everything lies hushed and quiet.

                        EDWARD B. KOSTER.

MLA citation:

Koster, Edward B. “Impressions of Winter.” The Evergreen; A Northern Seasonal, vol. 4 Winter 1896-7, pp. 22-27. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, General Editor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/egv4_koster_impressions/