It seems that many people see winter as a time of shutdown, as quiet waiting until new life appears in spring or as hibernation until the longer days and warmer winds return. I wonder if winter is also a time for reflection and renewal, and to just sit with the colder, darker places of our selves. We can wait for the snow to melt and plan excitedly for spring, and we can also invite the growth and healing that can come from allowing ourselves to feel and accept winter emotions like solitude, perseverance and patience, maybe even grief and longing.
I think this could be what Franz Schubert was trying to capture with his composition, Die Winterreise, or Winter Journey. In 1827-8, Schubert set the text of poems by Wilhelm Müller to music creating this song cycle of 24 lieder. The lied, German for song, is a solo piece for voice with piano, in which the text was often based on a poem. The piano and voice work together in an equal artistic partnership inviting the audience to interpret for themselves the meaning of the text through music. In this case, we are invited to share in the experiences of a wandering winter traveler. And of course, in the height of the Romantic period, we also share the hopes and despairs, joys and sorrows, and anguish and delight of this traveler’s journey.
I invite you to consider song 10 in this cycle, Rast, or Rest. Of the many official and unofficial translations, here is one that resonates with me:
At last I rest and only now
I feel weary
Nothing could tire me
While I pressed on
Over desolate winter paths
I was carried along as if on wings
It was too cold to stop
The winter wind helped me on my way
A helping hand on my back
And I love this performance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQDNNstEzHI. Just over three minutes, but so much is communicated. I can hear the traveler’s plodding footsteps, and the cold wind sweeping in to push him forward. I’m not sure how he’s feeling; only he knows, but when he arrives, he is ready to rest.
Through this next month or so of winter we can rest, regroup and wait, and we can also allow the experiences, the journey of winter to heal and transform us. As my Grandma used to say, “This too shall pass”. Winter will pass, but for this moment maybe we can allow it to just sit within us and learn from the experience.