Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind
by William Shakespeare
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly…
I was going to start this post with “Polar vortex, meet Mr. Shakespeare.” But after looking over my pictures, I’m going with, “Polar vortex, meet Bridget.”
Bridget is the woman who was waiting for the bus when I put Shakespeare’s poem “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” in the bus shelter.
I entered the bus shelter a little embarrassed. (My typical reaction to poem-elfing.) “Excuse me,” I told the woman standing inside, as if I had barged into a private residence. “I leave poems around town, and I just want to take a picture of this one.”
I asked her how she was bearing up in the cold, and she said, “It’s fine! I’m just waiting and singing,” she said.
Now, don’t be deceived by the sunshine in the picture. This was a bitterly cold day. The sub-zero temperatures had closed schools, kept plumbers busy and most people indoors. The inside of the bus shelter was protected from the wind, but it was still no summer picnic. And there was Bridget singing. Singing!
She told me she was singing church songs. “Hallelujah, My God,” I think she said.
I felt a little ridiculous, my poem-elfing a fool’s errand. Anyone singing praise to God on the coldest day of the year didn’t need Shakespeare to tell her winter’s not so bad.
Shakespeare’s poem is actually meant to be sung too, but it’s not exactly a tune for Maria von Trapp to brave her way through a thunderstorm. It’s dark and cynical, better suited to Liz Lemon than Maria. The song is from Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It.” A character named Lord Amiens sings “Blow, Blow” to a duke who’s been living in the woods because he’s been usurped by his younger brother. Also listening to the song is a starving young man named Orlando who’s been betrayed and driven out of his kingdom by his older brother. Both the duke and Orlando have found friendship and love to be “feigning“ and “folly.” And yet before and after this bitter little poem is sung, the two men conduct themselves with great kindness. Orlando will not eat until his elderly companion Adam eats. The duke feeds the starving men and ends the scene with this gentleness: “Give me your hand/And let me all your fortunes understand.”
So it’s all of a piece. The sting of bad weather hurts less than the sting of a bad friend; the sting of a bad friend is offset by the kindness of good ones.
And this is Michigan, so if you don’t like the weather, as the old joke goes, wait a few minutes.
Or take a cue from Bridget and sing your way through it. (If you need a little help in that department, here’s a version of “Blow, Blow,” the least stuffy one I could find.)