Here at SevenPonds, we’re probably hyperaware of death’s inevitability. I know that it certainly wasn’t a topic I considered on a daily basis until I joined this team. But that may mean that we occasionally take for granted what tends to be a serious epiphany for others. Sometimes it needs to just hit you. “A Piece of the Storm,” by the very talented Mark Strand, made me remember that the fact of mortality isn’t something that everyone ponders regularly. Here’s the poem in its entirety:
From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed.
That’s all There was to it. No more than a solemn waking
To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
A time between times, a flowerless funeral. No more than that
Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
“It’s time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening.”
In the piece, a tiny snowflake serves as a huge wake-up call to the person in the chair. This infinitesimal “piece of the storm” (8) awakens the man to the possibility of death. I love the juxtaposition of force and gentleness used to describe the little messenger: “a blizzard of one, weightless…” (2). When we lose someone, or it suddenly dawns on us that we don’t have eternity, it often feels like being hit by a truck, even though no literal blow has been dealt. Strand makes another contrast with the lines, “That’s all There was to it. No more than a solemn waking/To brevity…” (5-6). The poet first makes it sound like the experience was insignificant, and then he refers to the incident with comic irony, as if he were saying, “No big deal, he just had one of the most profound realizations of his life.” In just that small moment, that “time between times” (7), the individual in the poem is struck by the concept of mortality. Strand makes this even more obvious with death-related terms like “solemn” (5) and “funeral” (7).
I also like the line “No more than that” (7), which further emphasizes the irony of the situation. The person in the piece is left with “the feeling” (8) that life is a forever-repeating cycle. Even after he is gone, “someone years hence” (10) will replace him and have the same revelation. The snow will pass and then return the next winter. Even though it melts, even though it “turn[s] into nothing before your eyes” (9), it will “come back” (9) again. It’s a beautiful metaphor, that this tiny bit of precipitation falling from the sky leaves “‘an opening’” (11) for the person in the chair to fill. After witnessing a small natural act, the person in the poem, and many generations of people to come, learn to accept death. At last, they are able to say, “‘It’s time’” (11).