We went Christmas shopping this afternoon and wondered why the town seemed strangely deserted. It was, for example, easy to park, which is unheard-of at this time of year. And then, emerging from a bookshop, we realised why. The long-forecast snow had finally arrived. All at once the streets were eerily quiet, and one was reminded of how snow absorbs sound. It was strange to see how bars and restaurants, with their fires (real or fake), customers and bustling staff, suddenly seemed more inviting. I paused outside one and photographed its billboard, now half-obscured by snow. But we didn’t go in: we had meals to prepare, promises to keep.
Walking back to the car, I found myself thinking of the opening sequences of John Huston’s film of Joyce’s short story, The Dead, with the carriages delivering the guests to the Morkan sisters’ annual party, each one arriving with a light dusting of snow on their coats. And then I remembered the wonderful closing passage of the story, as Gabriel Conroy broods in his hotel bedroom on what his (now-sleeping) wife has told him about the young boy who had loved her as a girl.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
I’ve just looked out. The snow has stopped falling. But the landscape has been transformed. A muddy garden has suddenly become pristine, marred only by the tracks of the cats’ paws. Trees which had been denuded of leaves have become exquisite ice-sculptures. And it’s so, so quiet. As Yeats might have said: I shall have some peace here tonight, for peace comes dropping slow.