The wit and wisdom of snow, from Laurie Lee to Ogden Nash

Snow has always inspired wit and wisdom — and here are some of the best, as picked out by Jonathan Self.

When James Naughtie interviewed British Rail’s director of operations, Terry Worrall, for Radio 4 in 1991 and asked him about the weather-related service disruptions, the latter admitted: ‘We are having particular problems with the type of snow.’

Mr Naughtie’s inimitable response was: ‘Oh, I see, it was the wrong kind of snow.’

This led to the immortal newspaper headline ‘British Rail blames the wrong type of snow’, a phrase which, 30 years on, can still be heard bandied around by chuckling commuters.

The following lines may not be as well known, but they’re just as evocative

‘Now the winter’s day was set in motion and we rode through its crystal kingdom… We saw trees lopped-off by their burdens of ice, cow-tracks like pot-holes in rock… The church clock had stopped and the weather-cock was frozen, so that both time and the winds were stilled; and nothing, we thought, could be more exciting than this’

Laurie Lee, Cider with Rosie

‘Snow was falling, so much like stars filling the dark trees that one could easily imagine its reason for being was nothing more than prettiness’

Mary Oliver, Snowy Night

‘I went crosse the Thames on the ice, now becomes so thick as to beare not onely streetes of booths, in which they roasted meate and had divers shops and wares, quite the crosse as in a towne, coaches, carts and horses, passed over’

John Evelyn, writing about the London’s Great Frost Fair of 1683-84

‘“As though there were not enough to worry us already. This snow—”

“Snow?”

“But yes, Monsieur. Monsieur has not noticed? The train has stopped. We have run into a snowdrift. Heaven knows how long we shall be here”’

Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express

‘Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?’

The Book of Job

The Hunters in the Snow (Winter), 1565, byt Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

‘In the afternoon we had battles with the Tugs with snowballs… in the school yard. I received several cuts but gave as good as I got. Tarve major… had his eyes so knocked about that he is perfectly blind… several others, colleges and Oppidans, have black eyes and swelled noses’

Melville Lawford, Eton schoolboy, 1843

‘Another arctic day… I went to… Harrods, knowing that they generate their own electricity. At the centre… is a large hall with rows of armchairs, in which a possie of weary elderly people had come to roost’

Cynthia Gladwyn, diarist, 1947

‘Silently, like thoughts that come and go, the snowflakes fall, each one a gem’

William Hamilton Gibson

‘The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches’

E. E. Cummings

‘Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough’

Earl Wilson

The village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor and St Pancras Church in the snow on Dartmoor, Devon.

Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Snow is all right while it is snowing; it is like inebriation because it is very pleasing when it is coming, but very unpleasing when it is going.

Ogden Nash


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