a look at the season through an ancient poetic form

A. Christine Myers
2 min readNov 5, 2019


illustration © Sarah Myers, used by permission

This poem was written in the old form used by early English poets. Far back in the days when this language was much different — what we now refer to as Old English — rhyme was not used and poetic lines were organized by rhythm and alliteration.

It was a powerful technique, well-suited to tales of adventure and description of the wider world. Its best-known surviving work is the epic tale of the hero Beowulf.

Much has changed in poetry since then, just as much has changed in the English language. A strong influx of French arrived in England with the Norman Conquest in 1066. A little later new structures, including rhyme, crept gradually into English poetry under the influence of the great French troubadors, who in turn had developed them from the Arabic poetry of neighboring Spain.

Since then, the language and the poetic forms have altered many times and in many ways. But still there are elements in Old English poetry that can fire the imagination and sense of wordcraft in a poet.

Here is a brief depiction of winter which I wrote this morning. I have used both the irregular four-principle-beats-per-line structure and the alliteration necessary for the poetic effect. As the form itself is archaic, I have gone ahead and changed sentence structure without hesitation. English grammar has become far more sequential since the days when bards told of the legendary Beowulf.

I hope you enjoy this foray into a marvelous poetic form!


Comes the cold, with winds crying,
Hurries round the house in haste;
Craven winter, creeping quietly,
Dour through doors when dark falls
With snow settling swift on the steps;
Coward winter, rattling windows
He cannot warm; wailing winter,
Seeking to trouble Summer’s sleep.

Like dragon lying along the lake
And hills, he hoards high treasures
Beneath the ice, ever eager
To defend with frosty breath blowing.

The house-folk wait; no war with winter
Ever won; they know to watch the windows,
Doors, and wait the dragon’s death;
His frosted fire will falter, fade
As days draw deeper sunlight;
He will be slain with songs of swallows.