The Atlantic Daily: Six Poems to Bring You Comfort This Winter

We’re fumbling our way through another challenging January. Writers and editors from around our newsroom share the poems that they’re turning to this month.

A snow scene looking out a window with ruffled curtains
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I Could Be a Whale Shark” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

It’s been a difficult couple of pandemic years for parents of young children. The pure exhaustion from inconsistent child care along with concerns around our kids’ mental health has, as I can personally attest, taken its toll. But when I read Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poems, I am reminded about the parts of being a parent that extend beyond the anxiety so many of us feel at the moment—all the parts that are full of wonder and that reveal our connection to the natural world around us.

Clint Smith, staff writer and author of the poetry collection Counting Descent

American Han” by E. J. Koh

I love words for which there is no English equivalent, because they prompt us to contemplate meaning and interpretation in creative ways. In this prose poem, E. J. Koh, a translator herself, attempts to define the Korean word han, typically expressed as “grief” or “resentment.” The poem is biting (It’s not a word but a war. The word I thought belongs to me only belongs to the Korean border) and examines han with different tools: history, cultural criticism, and personal narrative. Reading the poem is an exercise in self-analysis, perfect for those cold winter days that seem to encourage introspection.

Morgan Ome, assistant editor

One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

This poem is a villanelle, a form that demands a rigid structure with repeated lines. Bishop keeps returning to her central idea—the art of losing isn’t hard to master—with ever greater losses, from the fluster / of lost door keys to some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent, culminating in you, the hardest loss of all. To me, this is a poem about brave faces, and coping, and it perfectly suits the end of two hard years of grief and worry.

Helen Lewis, staff writer

After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes” by Emily Dickinson

Dickinson supplies the necessary metaphors for a gray January day in my single-working-parent, pandemic-isolated brain: The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs (the numbness of burnout); ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’? (the irrelevance of passing time); The Feet, mechanical, go round (days on repeat). The last stanza offers a tenuous, icy sliver of hope. We’ll look back on this hour—Remembered, if outlived (if!)—as someone who’s survived the winter looks back from spring.

Jennifer Adams, associate director of production

The More Loving One” by W. H. Auden

I find myself reciting this poem a few times a year, whenever a friend is feeling the sting of an unrequited crush or the ache of a lopsided relationship. (Okay, fine—or when I am.) Love is degrading; when I’m feeling weary, it can seem distasteful, like a never-ending game of musical chairs, each partner scrambling to avoid being left alone. But Auden offers a hot take: If equal affection cannot be, / Let the more loving one be me. He’s right; it’s not embarrassing to be heartsick. It’s powerful.

Faith Hill, associate editor who helps select our Atlantic weekly poem

The Mississippi River Empties Into the Gulf” by Lucille Clifton

I return to this Lucille Clifton poem often in difficult times. And in this grueling winter—amid the record surge in coronavirus cases as we approach pandemic year three, amid record warmth and wildfires here in Colorado—yet again, Clifton’s lines have comforted me by reminding me that, historically and now, we’re not as alone as we think we are: everyday someone is standing on the edge / of this river, staring into time, / whispering mistakenly: / only here. only now.

— Kelsey J. Waite, copy editor

A drone photo shows a view of snow-covered trees and a twisting highway between Kutahya's Domanic and Bursa's Inegol districts in Bursa, Turkey, on January 18, 2022.
Sergen Sezgin / Anadolu Agency / Getty

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Showtime’s Yellowjackets, which concluded its first season this week, “frames the coming-of-age journey as a psychological horror,” our staff writer Shirley Li explains. And, in his latest newsletter, Jordan Calhoun discusses HBO’s Euphoria, a dark drama that is “counterintuitively hopeful.”

Listen. On this week’s episode of The Review, our critics explain why the ’90s sitcom Frasier is the ultimate comfort television.

Try to keep the holiday joy going. Charlie Warzel makes the case for keeping your Christmas tree up until March.