The following is excerpted from A Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page by Sandra Djwa.
The reality of Pat’s life in Victoria, especially her first Christmas, was strange and bleak; there was no snow, and “grey rain” fell. Yet from this experience emerged the splendid “Stories of Snow,” one of a handful of poems by Page that demonstrate her mastery of the craft of poetry. Lionel’s aunt, her son Jim Burchett and wife Betsy, who lived in Victoria, made Christmas as happy as they could for the bereaved family. There was a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, and carols afterwards. Among the guests was a Dutchman, Pierre Timp, well known in the city as a horticulturalist. He began to tell stories about Holland that Pat found “very very fascinating, very beautiful. He said that on Christmas day in Holland, they used to go out swan hunting on ice boats. And the images of ice boats – swan hunting … It seemed extraordinary to me.”
The images stayed with her. “Stories of Snow” is a long poem (by her standards) of fifty-one lines. Such poems came to her only in bits and pieces. Occasionally, they began as images, sometimes as lines: “Very often it’s a rhythm I hear that doesn’t have words at all, and I have to fit words to the rhythm. Sometimes it’s an image, also that doesn’t have words at all, and sometimes it will be a few words … out of which can grow … the poem.” “Stories of Snow” begins with a narrator speaking of those in milder latitudes who dream of snow as imaged in crystal globes that “hold their snowstorms circular, complete.” Here, in Victoria, “where the leaves are large as hands / … one will waken / to think the glowing linen of his pillow / a northern drift.” The story shifts to Holland, where
hunters arise and part the flakes and go
forth to the frozen lakes in search of swans –
the snow light falling white along their guns,
their breath in plumes.
The hunters sink their fingers in the down of the dead swan’s feathers and experience “that warm metamorphosis of snow.”
And stories of this kind are often told
in countries where great flowers bar the roads
with reds and blues which seal the route to snow –
as if, in telling, raconteurs unlock
the colour with its complement and go
through to the area behind the eyes
where silent, unrefractive whiteness lies.