‘Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you,’ says Christina Rossetti, and she has a point. Even in a twister you only see water droplets. Once I got caught in a dust-storm in Kolkata, and another time in a snowstorm north of Glasgow, but I can’t say I saw more than millions of manic particles each time, though I felt the force behind them plenty. Understandably poets tend not to tackle the wind head-on. How does one engage with that vanishing-act, that power?
Ted Hughes has quite a crack at it. ‘This house has been far out at sea all night, The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,’ he starts an almost frightening filmic description in verse. Yet I prefer Rossetti’s child-like poem introduced above. The trouble with all Hughes’ verse is that you can’t take the man out of his work and experience it as everyman (please take the term as inclusive): there’s a machismo label over the lot. Whereas the Bard has King Lear shouting ‘Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!’ and the words operate entirely free of their author, and this is so whether he is presenting a character on stage or his own (apparently) in the Sonnets. My two favourite poetic wind-moments however are in a way more direct even than this.
‘Ye motions of delight, that haunt the sides Of the green hills, ye breezes and soft airs,’ wrote Wordsworth, and my mind somehow has a spot reserved for a wild and breathing great slope of grass. While I forever take my hat off to a single word of Dylan Thomas’s. ‘Especially when the October wind With frosty fingers punishes my hair,’ he begins one of his poems, and whether or not he saw a lock of hair rising slightly and falling, in the shift and syllable-play of the first word, I see and imagine it.
I wondered about an image for this entry, and then remembered a time when I could see the winds. As a child I used to play mah-jongg and waited impatiently for the special tiles to come up of the flowers, seasons, winds and dragons. Maybe the magic in that game, building and dismantling a wall of ivory tiles, in touch with strange characters that meant more than I could know, prepared me just a little for a life of poetry. I’d like to think so.