Poets Online Archive



December 2011

On December 21, 2010, there was a full moon and it is was the Winter Solstice. It's an interesting astronomical coincidence and it set me looking for poems. I was unable to find a poem about both combined, but there are an unbelievably large number of poems about full moons and solstices and winter.

The Winter Solstice - the shortest day of the year and the longest night - 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. And we have all seen photos or been told about the most ancient stone structures made by human beings that 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.

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.

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 the reversal of shortening days. It is more seen as a time to celebrate the rebirth of the year.

There is more about the history and cultural significance of the solstice on the Poets Online blog post for this prompt.

The two poems I did find in my online search that I want to use as part of the prompt are "December Moon" from May Sarton's Coming into Eighty: Poemsimg and Mary Oliver's "Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh" (from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays).

Though neither is explicitly about the solstice, they are good examples of the way you might use the astronomical events as ways of reflecting on the natural world and on ourselves.

For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.


It’s a cold December night,
But for a change, the stars are out,
Sparkling as if recently polished because company is coming.
Orion reclines on the horizon
As if he really were a god tired of the rut.

The wind bullies the trees.
I like to think it’s caused by the confusion of angels,
Their wings beating at the speed of hummingbirds,
Flitting from those who pray for their own needs
Towards those who pray for others, then back again,
Never getting anything done.

But I know there are neither pagan gods
Nor confused messengers of light.
At the soul of this most beautiful universe
There is only the elemental elegance of vibrating strings.
And I know it’s true, because, on nights like this,
I can feel the sympathetic reverberations in my heart.

Yes, I know a wise man would go back inside his house
To the warmth of his family and friends
And explain these oscillations in terms they might understand,
Like the vibrations of the guitar strings he plays
As they sing Christmas carols;

And failing that,
Point to the tinsel which hangs from the Christmas tree
With the angel impaled on top,
And how the strands tremble as the model train encircles it.
To which someone says that it sounds like “Cat’s Cradle,”
And everyone laughs and drinks and feels better.

But this is not a wise man shivering out here,
Watching Orion get to his feet.

Ron Yazinski


The midnight dance of branch and breeze
frees the frozen limb,
caught by time and temperature,
and convinces the willow to sip;
erupting the fragile lace of ice
enough to glimpse the full moon's reflection
and its silent, cascading
fireworks display.
Eric Steggall


an orange glow
the color of a crenshaw melon
slips behind an indigo sky

we dance across the universe
pivoting off the tips of
moonbeams sparked and bright

from a distant sun
folds of velvet drape
over the fiery star

spit orange flames like
tongues unhinged and
undaunted the snow moon
begins to wane as the tiger
transforms into a rabbit and the
blue moons of last december fade

Marie A, Mennuto-Rovello


It’s cold.
That is apparent from the silence.
There’s no current in an ice bound creek to make a gurgle.
Those who are smart or perhaps those who are fearful
Have left you here on your own
On this short day.

It’s dark.
That is apparent from the shadows
Of which there are none for this is deep into the movement.
The symphony of deep night takes your breath away,
Played on the sudden burst of stars
This passing day.

It creeps.
That is apparent from the crescent
Of pale illumination framing the outer edges almost delicately.
These things come and slip away with more moments from you,
Leaving behind but deception
Of longer days.

Larry Eugene Meredith

ROLL ON 2094

She stopped outside our front gate, our young neighbour,
just back from the school run, breathless and bonny,
splayed two ways by black bitch and puppy, grinning.

She’d wakened the sleeping kids well before breakfast,
muffled their protests in scarves and hats, with a promise
of magic they would likely see once in their whole lives.

They’d headed up the hill to see where the silky Solway
made a mirror for the moon, orange in eclipse, to regard
itself with pride of placement, so precise, so predictable,

yet television, internet, newspaper and radio news failed us,
too old for another look, we had instead to share her triumph.
After all those years of loyal stargazing - our comet nights,

the twice we’ve seen the Northern Lights, often the Milky Way
once a glorious Kohoutec farting sparks, and bits of eclipses
- we missed the Solstice eclipse of December 2010.

Vivien Jones


I live a city life.
My day is measured by
Commercial and electronic rulers: the news on NPR, not nature.
Solstice or not, my life is
Friends and relatives.
In winter, there are special meals with close friends to acknowledge the holiday season,
We can’t ignore lights strung on trees and decorated store windows,
But darkness or light does not make the meal.
In December, I lunch with a relative here to see Xmas and welcome the New Year.
Now, after the first, I am sitting on my couch with another out-of-towner who seeks work to spend ten months having a NY City experience.
The only difference between now and June is the weather. Up at 8:00. To bed at –
More light or less. It’s the people I’m with or not who determine my day, not the weather.

Ellen Kaplan


The idiocy of time
Erasing and blind
Things tip over and I’m
Waiting for it---
The sun to fall back into
A waxing mode, the rest of us
in an uphill battle with despair.

The holly is up, people who shouldn’t sing
Sing out of tune
Fools are poised under poison
mistletoe for a nectared kiss.

I’d guess by February
This malaise will fade
Until then I can feel
The moon turning over in her grave
While the sun sparks again like a song
A new verse born in tune
Sings roots of crocus to stir
Frost cries off for one more year
Thank God
for one more year.

Patty Tomsky


Today, the shortest day of all
and I am getting it done.

At three AM the moon was orange.
A full moon, a lunar eclipse, winter solstice.

I had hoped to stand outside,
howl and dance like a pagan.

And yet. The sky shrouded in clouds.
A screaming teething toddler.

I stayed in bed with my child
attached to my breast, latched.

There is no magic for me in December,
I cannot laud the start of winter.

So what if the shadow of the earth
passed over the full face of the moon?

The center of my universe
dictated that I’d not see the eclipse.

His needs greater than my yearning.

Sandra Riley


Midwinter moon over
the Mall done up for Christmas.
      Full moon at solstice
eclipsed – who knows what
veiled lunar pull might tear things
apart down here, on Earth.
Compulsive bargain-
hunters, just three days left, last-
minute laggards join the fray –
collapsing into Happy Holidays,
Jingle Bells onto O Holy
Night. Escalator music. Disguised
as shoppers,
      a guerrilla tenor
stands in the rotunda, soprano
across the way; contralto
and bass, a whole chorus milling
among bundled buyers.
      The first sweet, soaring
notes of a Gloria. Shoppers
stop, open-mouthed, to gawk, to
listen; gather overhead
      leaning over railing,
rushing for the moving stairway
down. Too much of every-
thing at Christmas.
Someone hears a pop, some-
one feels
      a shudder
underfoot. Tectonic
plates? What exceeds the Fire
Marshal’s rating? In excelsis
will the structure hold?
Can there ever be too much
      joy of music?

Taylor Graham


I saw your lunar eclipse,
across the sky of my mind.
You coincided with my cold winter.
My inner celebrations were covered
with ice cycles and snow.
I felt white- washed with a healing poultice,
as the full moon of my desire,thawed my frozen heart.

Mary Bone

Moonlight settles over me
I watch, I breathe, I wait
The days are getting shorter,
Nights falling onwards
Forever in my wake

And I can't fall asleep tonight
There's something in the air
Starlight drowning in the water
Rippling a prayer
I do nothing more than stare

The solstice is among us,
and from legend I've been told
The moon can't take your body,
but it can take your soul

Nicola Thoner


this day.
the first day of winter.
it’s my day.
just like every day.
a new day.
sun shining through the shouldbebarren trees of southern california.

i was born today.
today, twentyfiveyearsandsixhours ago, today.
the shortest day of the year.
“a solstice baby”
my mother called me.
beckoning in winter with a redfaced scream of innocence.

welcoming the world anew
because this day.
the first day of winter is my day.
your day.
his day. her day.
as the sun shines through the stillredandyellow leaves of southern california.

i am alive.
i feel alive.
i am happy to be alive.

Rhian Beutler