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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.
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).