Dark green yew needles painted onto a pale pink background
Miki Lowe

The Change

A poem by Stephen Sandy, published in The Atlantic in 1997

Poems about the seasons tend to get a bad rap. Soft snowfall, chirping cardinals, bare feet on soft grass, crisp autumn leaves: These are obviously lovely scenes that, in their unambiguous beauty, are sometimes perceived to lack complexity or literary worth.

Yet some of the greatest poems derive depth as well as beauty from the seasons. Louise Glück described the “spiked sun” and the “bone-pale” snow of December; Grace Schulman celebrated April tulips as “white cups inscribed with licks of flame”; May Sarton observed that in the light of fall, “every line is sharp and every leaf is clear”; Naomi Shihab Nye detailed a “long-limbed afternoon” in August, “sun urging purple blossoms from baked stems.” The truth is that quotidian weather provides the backdrop for our lives. We experience every event, tedious or consequential, amid a blend of temperature, air, textures, and smells on our spinning planet. Why not try to capture the particularities that mark a moment in its rotation?

Nothing much happens in Stephen Sandy’s poem “The Change,” aside from a walk through the snow and a conversation about house shutters. But he paints the precise moment in March when winter starts to give way to spring—how the season “with this imperious pause / changed imperceptibly.” The physical setting seeps into the story: the “dart of sparrows,” the blank sky “muzzled in iron gray,” the feeling of stillness before an unstoppable progression. And suddenly we can better envision this chilly stroll, and even the narrator and his walking partner. Their relationship, too, will inevitably change, because everything changes—like the Earth’s position in its orbit, the climate, and the “needles leaden with cold, soon brightening.”

The pdf of the original magazine page with a yew painted on the left side

You can zoom in on the page here.