Snow in London, from A Half of Two Lives, by Alison Waley

"London Snow," a wood engraving by Gwen Raverat

The Wind Blows High

The wind, the wind, the wind blows high,
The snow is falling from the sky.
Maisie Drummond says she’ll die
For Want of the Golden City.

Children’s Game

The last day of February I929.

At Bayswater when I enter the Underground the sky is dull as canvas and still — the shadowed ceiling of a marquee without so much as a flap. Here, at Charing Cross, I step into this white and whirling dance of snow. I stand on the kerb-edge beside this huge policeman. His black cape flaps out like a crazed or injured bird while his broad red hand directs those who wish to cross the Strand. I do not wish to cross. I stand there, the palms of my ungloved hands upturned, face flung back, eyes closed, mouth open to catch the dancing flakes. It is no use, they melt before one can taste them; they do not make enough moisture even to swallow. But they touch my eye-lids with infant’s fingers. And my dark hair is full of a scatter of white flowers. “You want to cross?” the policeman’s voice is very loud and close; I open my eyes with a jerk.

“Isn’t it marvelous,” I say.

“Marvelous? Ugh!” He guides a child by the arm and crosses between the stationary traffic: then, ponderously, taking his time, he returns to my side.

Now he looks me over. My face, my throat and the backs of my hands are brown as an Indians.

“You a Londoner?” he asks.

I laugh at his perplexity. “Yesterday — not. Today . . . perhaps,” and find myself perplexed.

“You staying long?”

“Forever.”

And then . . . Is that true, I think . . . am I staying forever? London. This city to which I’ve travelled twelve thousand miles — whose streets my guided fingers traced at the age of four — nostalgic since infancy? Not the land of the Maori — but this so-strangely-known city, birthplace of my father . . . is it to be my city also? — the goal, the end of seeking? This “Here and Now,” . . at last my home?

I fling my arms wide — “For all my life,” I add.


from A Half of Two Lives, by Alison Waley
London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1982
New York: McGraw Hill, 1983

2 thoughts on “Snow in London, from A Half of Two Lives, by Alison Waley

  1. The artist, Gwen Raverat, wrote a book – a memoir of her childhood called Period Piece. She was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin.

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