As some of you probably figured out, I like to write about poetry that is in synch with the seasons. This one is definitely a winter poem.
How countlessly they congregate
O’er our tumultuous snow,
Which flows in shapes as tall as trees
When wintry winds do blow!—
As if with keenness for our fate,
Our faltering few steps on
To white rest, and a place of rest
Invisible at dawn, —
And yet with neither love nor hate,
Those stars like some snow-white
Minerva’s snow-white marble eyes
Without the gift of sight.
I can relate to the imagery here. I love to walk at night after it has snowed. The stars seem brighter in the cold winter sky and the blanket of crystalline white creates a scene that is truly magical for me. But winter is also the symbolic time of death, and the second stanza certainly evokes that image. It is almost like the snow is a heavenly white funeral pall.
So keeping the imagery of winter and death in my mind, I thought about the rest of the poem and tried to grasp the symbolism of the stars. I think the key is the Roman goddess Minerva, who is the virgin goddess of music, poetry, wisdom, and magic. It appears that the stars are a metaphor for either love or artistic expression (possibly both) which, like the virgin goddess, is unattainable. I get the sense that someone is dying, and as he nears his death, he gazes at the distant stars, realizing he will never attain that for which he longed his whole life, be it artistic expression or unrequited love.
This poem is both sad and beautiful. While the imagery is gorgeous and full of wonder, there is a deep sadness below the surface, like the cold, hard earth below the soft white drifts of snow.