When Icicles Hang by the Wall
by W. Shakespeare
Summary and Critical Analysis of When Icicles Hang by the Wall
In winter the dipping water freezes and hangs; the shepherd breathes his finger-nails to warm them; Tom carries wood to the fireplace; milk is frozen in the bucket while taking it home; people feel biting cold and the roads are muddy because of rain. At night the owl stares and sings a happy song. And the cook prepares steaming soup to keep the family members warm. The blowing of the wind can be heard everywhere. When the priest starts preaching, his voice cannot be heard because of the cough. In the snow birds protect their young by covering them with their wings. Marian has to clean her nose continuously. So it has turned red. In the kitchen small sour apples are being roasted to make jelly, and the owl sings a happy song at night.
At the conclusions of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost are two songs, one in praise of spring, one of winter. The pleasure of spring is the obvious ones of the outdoors. As in a debate, in the second poem, “When Icicles Hang by the Wall,” the second speaker presents the claim for winter. He is willing to concede the disadvantages of winter-its cold, its muddy roads, its wind, the throat and nasal discomforts we all endure-nut his plea for winter is a subtle one. The poet presents the harshness of winter without using words like “cold” or “unpleasant”.
For this he uses the following expressions: ‘blow his nail’, ‘blood is nipped’, ‘ways be foul’, ‘all aloud the wind doth blow’, ‘coughing drowns’, ‘nose looks red and row’. All these represent the harshness of winter-its cold, its muddy roads, its wind, the throat and nasal discomforts. He arranges each stanza to move us indoors, for there we experience the pleasures of his season. Roasted crab apples sizzling in hot cider, steaming soup tended by a perspiring maid, a warm room: these are pleasures all the keener for the cold we know is just outside.
Two false approaches often taken to poetry can be avoided: the first is that approach which always looks for a moral or a lesson, and the second that which expects to find poetry always beautiful. This poem has no moral, nor is it beautiful. Poetry may deal with common colds and greasy kitchen maids as legitimately as with sunsets and flowers, and give no message or noble truth about life, and still continue to be a favorite among readers for nearly four centuries.