“Winter Evening” by Archibald Lampan is sometimes a difficult poem to grasp. In short, the poem uses dramatic imagery and flowery vocabulary to describe the change in time of day. Literally, the poem is a theatrical representation of a winter’s day fading into night. The paper will discuss several things such as the poem type, the speakers, the speaker’s attitude, and tone. The paper will also discuss methods and techniques used by the author to convey meaning throughout the poem.
The poem is one simple stanza. It is free-flowing, void of any rhyming poetry. It is not a particular type of poem; one could not call it a limerick, or a haiku. There is no dramatic situation going on in the poem. Its content is very simple. The author uses very vivid imagery to describe the change in time of day as it fades from dusk to evening. Given the time the author was alive, 1861-1899, where he lived, Morpeth Ontario, and certain vocabulary used in the poem we are able to deduce the setting. Lines such as “The streets that narrow” and “From all the crowded chimneys tower and die” lead us to believe that the poem’s setting is a city or town. The poem also mentions horses riding by, also suggesting the poem takes place in the city.
There is only one speaker, and there is no indication that it is not Archibald Lampman himself. No gender-specific language is used, nor any names mentioned in the poem. We are also not sure to whom the speaker is speaking. The tone of the poem is joyous, but it also holds somber notes, which proposes that Lampman may simply be thinking to himself about the impending winter evening. The poem does not argue anything other than the day is fading, and the glorious evening is on its way, as exemplified in these lines: “A thousand aureoles. Down in the west. The brimming plains beneath the sunset rest.” This is a logical argument, because this is what happens each day the sun sets.
The change in tone is not marked by any significant changes in the poem’s form, only by its content. “Winter Evening” is one stanza with no breaks or pauses. Vocabulary usage and the distinction between dusk, evening, and night are what provide the strongest visible change in mood. The author begins by describe dusk, using the word “gold” or “golden” three times. Lampland also mentions the “streets that narrow to the westward gleam.” Because it is common knowledge that the sun sets in the west, this helps create a scene that depicts streets pointing toward a sunset. He draws the eye to the “brimming plains beneath the sunset,” as well. After he creates an image of the setting sun he begins allowing the evening to creep in, “the glorious vision.” This will soon be replaced be “the awful night.” This final line of the stanza is his most obvious declaration throughout the poem.
These key images flow together in a sequence very nicely. Lampman spends enough time marveling at the “gold” or “golden” sunset and the intricacies of the streets and chimneys as the sun is setting to not also be in love with it. We can deduce that he enjoys dusk and evening but not the night itself. However, for the sake of argument, if the distinction between night and evening are not made, the entire meaning of the poem changes. Now it is only dusk and the light of the setting sun that Lampman enjoys while evening and night are the “mightier master” full of “silence and the sharp unpitying stars.” To some, this could be used as a metaphor for dying.
Sometimes a common way to look at a person’s life is in seasons. When they are born they are in the spring of life and as they age they go through the summer and fall. When they age and are dying, they have reached a winter. The same could be said for the times of day. Lampman has lived through the morning, midday, and afternoon of his life. He has reached the sunset but feels that the sun may be setting too quickly on his life: “Stern creeping frosts, and winds that touch like steel, Out of the depth beyond the eastern bars, Glittering and still shall come the awful night.” The “silence and sharp unpitying stars” also remind the reader of death. There will be nobody to help him when the shadow of death falls, only silence and regret. If this analogy is true, the night is impending but it also stands for his death and is something that he does not want to face. In this context, the poem takes on a different tone and Lampan does not sound somber. Instead, he sounds desperate. He cannot stop the night, or death.
“In a dream, The streets that narrow to the westward gleam,” was a seemingly figureless line prior to believing the poem to be about death. The word “dream” may mean that Lampman had dreamt of his own death. The dream, or “vision”, as the word is also used in the poem, may have spurred him to feel that his own death was as unstoppable as the sun setting. The streets narrowing toward the sunset are also telling. Narrowing streets can be claustrophobic. This feeling can relate to death and many things to do with death such as funerals, caskets, and being buried. Also that the streets were pointed toward the sunset, figuratively leading him toward the unavoidable darkness, shows how hopeless he may have felt.
In conclusion, there are two ways to look at “Winter Evening” by Archibald Lampman. If one makes a clear distinction between three different times of day, it sounds as if Lampman is happy about the sunset and the evening, but scared or unhappy about the impending night. The poem seems very one-dimensional in this context and is nothing more than a devotional piece about Lampman’s disposition to times of day. However, if the reader does not make this distinction it sounds as if Lampman is soaking up the last few moments of metaphorical sun that he can before the pitiless night comes down upon him. In this context, night possibly represents death and something that Lampman is not ready to face. Many references in the poem then begin to make it seem as though Lampman is fearful or, at the very least unhappy and claustrophobic at the thought of death. Either way the reader chooses to dissect it, it is a beautiful piece of work.
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