Once in Winter . . .

(Photo by Brian May, Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo by Brian May, Wikimedia Commons)

Last Wednesday, February 18, was Ash Wednesday. (Ash — plural, ashes — is the black stuff you get after you burn something.) It is an important holiday for Christian people around the world.

Many poems have been written about Ash Wednesday. T.S. Eliot wrote a famous poem about Ash Wednesday. It is a nice poem, but it is complicated and difficult even for native English speakers. Walter Brueggemann wrote another poem about Ash Wednesday. It is also nice, but a little difficult.

I like the poem below. It is short, and simple. The writer is anonymous —  we don’t know his or her name.

***

Ash Wednesday

Once in winter,
I stood,
White flakes brushing my face
With white fingers,
I waited with the others
We shivered on the steps–
Stuck out our tongues to catch snowflakes
So cold they would burn.

Soon the big doors would open
On smoke and candles
and a cold thumb would brush
My forehead with a cross of ashes
“Dust to Dust” he would mutter
While snowflakes melted in my hair. 

***

Imagine two pictures: 1) Someone waiting outside a church in the snow. 2) That person inside the church participating in the ceremony.

The first part of the poem is in past tense. Stood (stand), waited (wait), shivered (shiver), stuck out (stick out) are all past tense.

The second part of the poem is in conditional tense. (You can read more about it here.) Would burn, would open, would brush, and would mutter are conditional.

Last year, my students wrote their own poems. They were not about Ash Wednesday. They were about a time they were waiting to do something. Some students wrote about waiting for a party. Some students wrote about waiting for school to start. You can read their poems here.

Do you feel creative? You can write your own poem about waiting. You can follow the guidelines below. Please share them!

Once in _____________ (season)
I _______________ (action)
It was ___________ (weather)
Everything was _______ (color) and ______ (description)
I was ____________ (action)
Everyone around me was _________ (action)
I felt _________ (emotion)
I knew that ________ (result)
And _________ (conclusion).

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