poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this Poem 

“Thoreau was, among so many other things, a marvelous walker; he used walking not only as a mode of transportation but also as mode of observation—it allowed him to see his world, not just with his eyes, but with his entire body. This piece is from a series that tries to capture the rhythm of that intimate engagement.”

—Cole Swensen

from "Thoreau"


In the essay “A Winter Walk,” which predated the more famous essay “Walking”
by a few years, Thoreau paid particular attention to the astonishing array of whites

from fog to snow to frost to the crystals growing outward on threads of light. The
fact that white is separately known. That it is its own wildness, entirely exterior,

like all weather you notice is a version of an open room coming through
the wind in prisms. White holds light in a suspended state, unleashing it later

across a field of snow or a sheet of water at just the right angle to make the surface
a solid, and on we go walking. Goethe’s Theory of Colors depicted each one

as an intense zone of human activity overflowing its object into feeling there is
a forest through which something white is flying through a wash of white, which is

the presence of all colors until red, for instance, is needed for a bird or green
for a world.

Copyright @ 2014 by Cole Swensen. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 2, 2014.

Copyright @ 2014 by Cole Swensen. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 2, 2014.

Cole Swensen

Cole Swensen

Born in 1955, Cole Swensen is the author of more than ten poetry collections, including Landscapes on a Train (Nightboat Books, 2015). She is coeditor with David St. John of the anthology American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2009).

by this poet


erodes the line between being and place becomes the place of being time and so
the house turns in the snow is why a ghost always has the architecture of a storm
The architect tore down room after room until the sound stopped. A ghost is one
among the ages at the edge of a cliff empty sails on the bay



Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.


as if a road could be otherwise but geometry
defies the man who is lost on the road that
the trees want to reach and reach down
to his walking on
along a verticality that defies
the requirements of normative perspective
and so he will reach, and the trees against chalk—