Fiona Rae

Snow White changes into something rich and strange


White Cinders:

Notes Towards a Sketch of Winter

By the Pericles at Play team

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.

James Joyce, The Dead



The Acropolis was a whiteout today. Like, total whiteout.


Henry shivered. The olive trees moved, shivering surprise, at the cool touch. Snowily camouflaged, the green-silver olive leaves, shaped like spears, with new silver sparkle, lumpier, different. Henry’s puffer jacket bore a speckling of snow. 


White now in the whiteout. 


Snow, makes you think of Jacques Derrida’s “snow-white” hair and Vera Nabokov’s “snow-white” hair.


Cabbage white

common brimstone

Old World swallowtail

butterfly explosion like ash

from the overgrown tumulus.


Mount Etna: grey-white dusting. Boiled fish in the Bay of Napoli. Santorini: aeon-destroying waves waves waves, and more grey-white. The tripwires in Mosul. Ash. Oil fire. Nightmares. Thinking of Aeschylus, at night, in snow, deep in Mosul. Ka-boom. Snow; ash. Ice cores. Lobster. Snow like cinders from callous Zeus Σωτήρ. Climate crisis. Death stranding. Snow piled up in a medieval silver bowl.


But it is not really meant to snow in Athens Henry said. 


Athens, great collage. 


Cinders upon cinders. Ashglory. 


He opens his eyes to a hard frost, 

the morning’s soft amnesia of snow. 


The poet Robin Robertson writes


frost wants to know what

snow tries to forget.


And elsewhere, in another poem, he writes 

It is so cold tonight; too cold for snow,

and yet it snows.




Snowlit. Magic. Different lights at dawn; different lights at dusk. Lavender pomegranate mauve quince fig plum apricot gold engoldening peach cherry cherryblossom carnation damson blueberry aquamarine Tarnation, you don’t describe sky like that! blue blue blue. Skyfruit. Few blue fruits.

Anne Carsons Sappho

if not, winter 

  no pain

    I bid you sing


and Anne Carsons snow

Out the window I can see dead leaves ticking over the flatland

and dregs of snow scarred by pine filth.

Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond in Henry’s rather bare cookbook shelf (for modern standards). He broils wild boar sausage. Went hunting once with Greeks didn’t see a single boar just heard the pop and smoke lucky he wasn’t speared by father’s Guestfriend, really.


Boar-tusk helmet tenderly described in Iliad Book 10 as modern lit. might describe a fistfight or a woman or a city or fragile masculinity or Seferis’ unripe milk-white breasts: One day I saw her touching Antigone’s breast / like a small child stealing an apple


Persian rice with the sausage? Henry asks. And he passes me a beer. Our fingers touch. He lights a cigarette. Chanel No. 5. He had been to Six D.O.G.S the nightclub in Monastiraki and didn’t come home ah, yes but that place doesn’t smell like Chanel No. 5 just beer and sand and sawdust and the piss proud. 


In a vase on the table are unusual flowers, exotic intrusions, like furry yellow baubles. 

From my room at the British School at Athens I can see colonnades and cypress and pine and tennis courts all iced out. 


Helena and Llewelyn come in. Cool gust. And they are refreshing. The door clangs, louder in the frost and snow. Quick, sharp, pretty. New champagne. Earmarked for nothing. Pop. Psst.


So lovely to see you darlings Helena breathed. Little red nose. Incongruous summer freckles. Then her face drew close to Henry’s and she pecked at his cheek like a hen on flint.


Outside, the view telescoping, a mouse moves across the snow. Tiny. The burrow is near. Nuts, seeds and warm. Crumbs from a discarded gyros. Makes it back to the hole. Fox, eagle, snake. Snow on top. Whiter than anything ever seen.


Helena brews tea. Chamomile is most highly commended for health by Asclepiades of Bithynia she says.


Swans in the winter air. 


The appalling snow Helena continues, gets in my hair. The tea warms her skin. You can see the change. It is profound. 


The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was

Spawning snow and pink roses against it

Louis MacNiece writes. 


Oh Heavens, and Wallace Stevens

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


Hog. Henry never shot one. Not once. Log on the fire. Cry havoc. Parthenon sooted black. Illegal chimneys. Same in Bath. A father going mad at Sadiq Khan about his policy on fires in London. Rlly, that’s where ur going to choose to pitch ur sword and die? 


December’s bareness everywhere! I cant stand the shorn vegetation, Llewellyn says, colder than a witch’s tit, already a little tight, Grandine grossa, acqua tinta e neve / per laere tenebroso si riversa; / pute la terra che questo riceve, rubbing his hands together in front of the fire looking like he might doze off any second now! Champagne already half drunk. Chamomile tea cold and stewing. Dregs. 


Winter. Time to eat fat Helena says. Lovely lioness mane of hair. A clutter of flakes and snowmelt. Ash from the fire, snow coming in from the window. Delicate. You melt. Swiftly shut. 


Henry lights a cigarette for Helena from a burning stick taken from the fire. He hands it to her. Sparks. The fire is gutted. It is late. Snowdrift. Wood-chunks stacked up nearby. Henry clove them with an axe. V v manly. 


Coke, they called it, burning coal and finding sad light stuff left

Coke, he called it, crawling into bed loveflake happy

Snow, they called it, looking outside and seeing water too light, too white to stay straight

Ἐν λευκῳ ἀλήθεια


Flakes drifting like barges. Skybarges. Rhône, Rhine, Danube. Bonfire of snow. Strange day, Christmas Eve, sacred and not. A lot drunk, a lot not done, a lot done. 


Yet, spring will bring us back changed.

The mountains are wild and wooded with stripes of limestone, deep red serpentine, occasional hanging meadows brown with snow-melt, and just then we were really among them.


But for now we hear the snow creak under our boots. 


I bought these boots in L.A. Lewellyn says, taking them off at the door, greeting Henry with a close embrace, reciprocated, Helena already by the fireside kindling in hand, champagne down on the table cooled enough by the air. 


Henry and Helena trading lines in a story of a holiday they had once shared like old Greek men trade grand tales and cigarettes and lines from beloved Michalis Ganas and glasses of alcohol and grimy euro notes 

In France I remember the trails up through the orchards and 

the fields of the hill-side farms above the village, and 

the warm farm-houses with their great stoves and

the flat oysters in the skiing restaurant,

picking them from 

their bed of crushed ice on the silver plate, watching 

their unbelievably delicate edges,

our happiness before we separated and

huge wood piles in the snow

like giants at sleep like 

that dark lit valley in the night, remember that,

looked like the side of a silver trout like

moonscape like



In Leucippus, the outer band of atoms in a cosmic vortex catches fire. Cinders and ashes: signs of the once-has-been. Warm cinders; cold cinders. Testament to object and event. 


Cinders and ashes erase themselves totally, radically, in an all-burning, aching despondency. Only the memory of the flame and the blaze: dust and remainder. No cinder without fire. A foretaste of mourning.

How could you want to become new unless you have first become ashes!


Cinder: old grey word. Gone in a puff of smoke. Mourn. Pure luxury. Pure effusion. 


Nothing composite can escape division. 

For quotations we gratefully acknowledge: Dante Alighieri, Margaret Atwood, W. H. Auden, Anne Carson, Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Friedrich Nietzsche, Robin Robertson, Sappho, William Shakespeare, and Wallace Stevens.


Fiona Rae

Snow White changes into something rich and strange

Oil paint on canvas


Tate: T15085