What better way to celebrate the solstice than with some winter solstice poems? I've chosen some poems to help you savor this time of year. Jump to the poems below.
Why winter solstice poems?
It’s no wonder that throughout history at this dark time of year, people around the world have celebrations of light: Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa all celebrate the miracle of light in dark times.
Unfortunately, our society often overlooks the creative and more spiritual side of our traditions. The holidays become times to buy and eat more. But rather than consume more external things, we can treat this dark time as an invitation to wonder and re-ignite our own internal fire.
If we want to ignite our inner fire, we need to go inward. It's true that what we might find there may be our own darkness, not just the reflection of others’ darkness. But if we sit with our own pain, we will also be able to sit with our own wonder and process of transformation, which is its own kind of light.
And even in the darkness, as winter solstice reminds us, there is light and still more light to come: tomorrow we come get just a bit closer to the sun again.
These poems remind us of the light around and within us.
The practice of writing can also remind us of the power of light, of rebirth in darkness, or miracles when it seems that the light is running low. I hope you'll enjoy some prompts at the end of the poems.
So even in this busy holiday season, take some time to get comfortable and settle down with a pen and paper.
I'd also love to see you in my New Year 5-Day Mindful Writing Challenge. Start the new year with an aligned writing practice. It's completely free to sign up, and you can do the practices on your own schedule! See more and sign up here.
Winter Solstice Poem #1:
Snowy Night by Mary Oliver
Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
tossed an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried
over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.
Mary Oliver's "Snowy Night" reminds us to pay attention and to be with what is present, whether we understand it or not. It invites us to welcome, instead of to shun, the dark and be open to what we don't "know" and instead step into wonder.
Winter Solstice Poem #2
The Buddha's Last Instruction by Mary Oliver
“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal -- a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire --
clearly I'm not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.
The wisdom of the Buddha, according to this beautiful poem, is that we each have a light within us. Even when we are afraid, this light is bigger than any individual idea of the "self." Instead, it is part of our connection with everything around us. I love the way Oliver intersperses her own thinking and experiences with the teachings of Buddha here.
Winter Solstice Poem #3
To Know the Dark by Wendell Berry
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
In our mechanized world, in which we can turn the lights on at all hours, we can forget the sweetness of the dark itself, its calm, wisdom, and mystery. "To Know the Dark" reminds us to listen also to what the dark has to teach us.
Winter Solstice Poem #4
Midwinter by Nadia Colburn
(first published in EcoTheo Review)
I think it’s okay
to write another poem
about the light—about the white heron
who rises over the black oil spill
at the edge of the city.
I don’t know if the heron
is full of joy
as she lifts her long torso up,
as she hurls herself (is that
what she does?) airward.
I don’t know whether the heron
is going home or whether
she lives here,
whether she escapes
suffering or, more probably, not.
I do know there’s no need to apologize
for my own gladness, today,
midwinter, that has no
apparent cause in the daylight cast
from the sun.
I wrote this poem one day in the middle of winter when I was feeling a bit down. I'd been sitting at my computer too long, and even though it was raining, I went for a walk along the bike path and into some wetlands.
As I came to the end of the path, my mood suddenly shifted and I felt a great wave of unexpected happiness. Even though there was no real external reason for this change, it felt like a reconnection with the world around me and with myself, a deeper knowing.
Sometimes the world around us can feel glum, and we can lose our sense of purpose and meaning. And then we remember a gladness, a deeper knowing, that we carry within us and that doesn’t need any explanation.
If you're looking for more winter poems, check out Robert Hayden's powerful "Those Winter Sundays" by clicking here.
Take a few moments to explore the writing prompts below. Allow your own voice some space for exploration.
I wish you wonderful holidays, whatever you celebrate, and a strong start to the new year. May we show up for what we believe in and support one another.
with love and much appreciation,
Winter Solstice Poems: Writing Prompts
** Write about a time you felt joy or light within darkness.
** Write about appreciation for the dark and not knowing.
** Choose six words from the three poems above that stand out to you, and incorporate them into your own poem.
Have fun with the writing process! Let it be one of discovery.
Leave a comment below, and let me know how it goes! <3