Derek Mahon is widely regarded as one of the most talented in Irish poetry. Central themes in his poetry include oppressiveness, exile, culture, and art. In his poem The Snow Party, he uses a series of short lines to express two conflicting scenes. The first one is a scene of peace and the other one is a scene of violence .His use of the simple language is his main technique in this poem. We notice that he uses the simple language and the clear images in both scenes. The only thing that distinguishes the peaceful scene from the violent one is the tone and the sound of the words. The poem is observing the world using simple statements:
Crowds to the window
To watch the falling snow.
When the poet moves to the scene of violence, he uses the same simple language to present the violence, darkness, and the pain:
Thousands have died since dawn
In the service
Of barbarous kings;
The poem doesn’t express any opinion about these deaths, it simply presents them, recognizes them, and share the knowledge with the reader.
The images that are used in the first part of the poem (snow, china) refer to the beauty and peace of the scene, while we notice that the tone shifts in the second part of the poem (the fifth and sixth stanza). The language stays simple but the images are darker:
Elsewhere they are burning
Witches and heretics
In the boiling squares,
The use of certain sounds has a huge effect on the poem like the sound (ow) in window, snow, and cold. It gives the reader a sense of quietness and comfort, on the other hand; the use of the strong sound (d) like “died since dawn” and (b) in burning, boiling, and barbarous gives the reader a feeling of hardness and cruelty.
Though the tone of the two parts of the poem is completely different but the simple language stays the same. The poet is using this simple technique to say that the same form can create completely different effects. The human is the one who creates the peace and the war; he can make that effect in the world.
The poet wants to make the reader question whether the second part of the poem (the scene of violence) undermines the first part (the scene of peace and beauty). He then finishes his poem by returning back to the peace and the snow:
But there is silence
In the houses of Nogoya
And the hills of Ise.
He does this because he doesn’t want his readers to be trapped with violence. He has recognised that evil does exist but he can finish it because he has the power as a poet to finish the poem the way he wants and therefore; he goes back to peace and beauty.
Mahon leaves the reader at the peaceful scene (the snow party) because that’s what he wants us to be, he emphasizes on the positive images rather than the negative ones.
After the class discussion.
Derek Mahon is celebrated in Irish poetry tradition. He is a poet of dislocation. He is a poet of nostalgia and he does it deliberately. There are a lot of contradictions in describing him. He has a desire for solving ambiguity in terms of the relationship between the secular and the sacred, future and past, natural and unnatural, domestic of the local and the universal and the dark and light in his imagery. The theme of loss, exile, and isolation is a recurring preoccupation in Mahon’s work as is his related fascination with figures that live on the fringes of society. “An awareness of being cut off from the lives of ordinary folk occupies a central place in the verse, and many of his most characteristic poems have a lonely, isolated figure or an odd man-out at their centre. We encounter such figures in all of Mahon’s books.” (Dictionary of Literary Biography).
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Looking back at the poem The snow Party, we see that the poet allegorically shifts to Japan as he is trying to create a relation to the Northern troubles. The poet doesn’t talk about theses troubles directly. In this poem, he is talking about Basho, the famous Japanese poet. This poet is asked to attend a snow party and in the party there is the formal tea ceremony. Mahon tries to create a relation between the tea party, the snow fall, and the death of thousands. The connection with Northern troubles through the use of the artist figure is to say that there is a pressure on the Northern poets to present significant poems.
Mahon wants the reader to question whether the poem validates the work of the poets in the snow party in setting themselves apart from what’s happening elsewhere. The poet says that poetry can contain the politics but for the poets to attend a tea party doesn’t mean that they are engaged in politics.
If we try to read the poem from a gender perspective, we find that there is an association between femininity and the domestic setting (tea in China) and also there is a connection between femininity and art, however; masculinity would be connected with barbarity of what happens “thousands have died since dawn”. We can also look at this poem as not being a male and a female realm as previously mentioned but as two males realm, one is interested in art and the other is interested in politics.
This poem is very interesting and the way it was discussed has exposed the cultural aspect of it. We have looked at this poem from a Western perspective and we have understood it in terms of a masculine/feminine relation, however; by exploring the cultural aspect of it we discover a new dimension.
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