Inverno Inversed

May 14, 2024 Zlatara Chakarova
Inverno Inversed

Photo by Angela Sterling

This essay was originally submitted by Zlatara Chakarova as a written assignment in ENG 3441 American Nature Writing with Professor Olga Nikolova.


Opus 8, No. 4, in F minor

I. Allegro non molto

Frozen and trembling in the icy snow,

In the severe blast of the horrible wind,

As we run, we constantly stamp our feet,

And our teeth chatter in the cold.

II. Largo

To spend happy and quiet days near the fire,

While, outside, the rain soaks hundreds.


III. Allegro

We walk on the ice with slow steps,

And tread carefully, for fear of falling.

If we go quickly, we slip and fall to the ground.

Again we run on the ice,

Until it cracks and opens.

We hear, from closed doors,

Sirocco, Boreas, and all the winds in battle.

This is winter, but it brings joy.

                                                     Antonio Vivaldi


* * *

I discovered Vivaldi’s “Winter” in reverse. I first discovered Crystal Pite’s Seasons’ Canon, which she choreographed for Max Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. From Pite I went to Richter and from Richter to Vivaldi. Then I found that Vivaldi wrote little poems for each of his four movements. When I first read his winter poem, years ago, I wrote it on a piece of paper and put it on my wall. It has been there ever since. I would often read it, but I never went beyond thinking of it as a beautiful piece of writing. Now that I have grown a bit and have been through some winters myself, I can sense the words rooted so deeply in me that I realize I have something to hold on to when it gets very, very cold.

Contrary to what is the common conception of winter, as a frozen, static world, unable to move, or dead even, Vivaldi’s perception is one of a constant movement. The appearance of stillness is an invitation to look closer. Instead of the fluttering wings of a flock of birds, teeth chatter, fingers tremble. Small hesitant steps weave their way through a whirling wind.

Spring might seem to offer more to be said, but I do not find in it the conflict I find in winter. Winter is about the difference between what you see or think you see and what is truly happening. A frozen landscape looks dead when it is only sleeping. Winds battle each other in what we call a storm, when it is just the relocation of spirits. It is not spring that gives life, but winter that lets it rest until it is time to bloom again.

I used to think Vivaldi’s poem was about the fear of ending, the fear of things stopping and never resuming their flow again. It seemed only natural: “we” either run so as not to freeze or we walk carefully “for fear of falling.” Whatever the case, there is always fear. If you walk too fast, if you are too heavy, the ice will break and you will fall and drown. But then what is ice, if not water that looks dead? And what is the water underneath the ice, if not water that is, so to speak, alive? Then, the fear of death seems more about the fear of sinking into life.

Why would such a depiction of winter “bring joy”? What is it about one’s struggle to move, to keep moving through a storm that can ultimately be the source of happiness? When one chooses to walk blindly into the dark with the hope to eventually reach the light, one follows a vision of light. This vision of not here and not now is what maintains one’s strength to keep walking here and now – until light floods the scene.

Walking through winter, is it spring one thinks about? I have never seen it that way. It is not spring that brings hope, it is one’s ability to see what is underneath the snow. Spring is not the opposite of winter. Spring is winter melted. So one’s hope of reaching the light seems a bit naive. Logical, but incomplete. Light shimmers in darkness, life issues in death, warmth lies in the snow, the seed of a flower bides its time in the frozen soil.

Revelations come through growth. When snowflakes fall, the world gets slowly covered in snow. All is white; therefore, all is clear. To find one’s truth, one must go back to such moments of clarity.


I feel that in Vivaldi’s mind the poem appeared first, and the music followed. The poem and the actual piece are all the same thing, are they not? One explains the other and vice versa. But they are not interchangeable. The words add to the music, the music plays the words.

Snow falls, Vivaldi writes a poem. Snow falls, a musical piece appears. Snow keeps falling for almost three centuries and the music finds a new voice, ply over ply. A woman joins the orchestration by adding to it the movement of the human body. It is all so white, so clear. And each layer is in itself, and all layers are the same thing.

Whenever I watch the last part of Crystal Pite’s Seasons’ Canon, I am swept away by its grandeur. We are used to saying nature does this or that, oceans move, birds fly, flowers bloom… We talk of mountains and trees when looking at them each as a whole – this is where the wildness and the beauty of it come together. The wholeness of things stands before us. We say this leaf here – this is nature. This wind is nature, this wave is nature. But we rarely say this person is nature. The way he moves is nature. The way she turns is nature. We tend to look at people as individuals. Even if we are looking at a crowd, slowly and gradually we reconstruct a somebody. So the wave gets divided into droplets. And though the wave is in a way a combination of droplets, when you are in it, it is difficult to see yourself as part of it.

The choreography of Pite deliberately aims to let go of the individual and look at things as a whole. Each dancer is like a tiny fractal, a part of the human wave and a smaller wave inside of it. Everyone moves led by the same voice, the difference is only a delay in time. But is it not precisely through the delay of time that we can perceive movement?

Vivaldi’s poem and Pite’s choreography say the same words, but speak through different voices. In the poem one thinks of the movement of a human being within winter. In the dance one sees the movement of winter within a human body. The differences are obvious – one speaks through words, the other through human motion. One gives the impression of a slow, heavy journey, the other is the storm that opens the way. It is all beautiful. You feel like you are freezing when you are in it, but when you are being the storm it is only matter changing its form.

And, of course, there is the music. I feel the recomposed version better than I feel the original. The newer version takes its time within the storm. It does not let it fade away as quickly and as easily as one would prefer. Because this is a fundamental part of the experience of winter: it comes all of a sudden and it feels so long. It is both familiar and unpredictable, like the gentle and habitual touch of a loved one who all of a sudden betrays one and leaves.

The paradox of winter is that on the outside it may look frozen, but inside, life keeps thriving. On the outside the winds are howling, snow covers everything under its veil, all seems to die. Yet all keeps moving inside and metamorphosing into new forms. That is the nature of nature: constant change. It is scary when you realize change has come – beyond extends the unknown. It is also scary when you pray for change and nothing seems to be moving: the whiteness is perfectly still.

Does winter really “bring joy”? Look carefully enough, and you can see life melting away the ice. Life is expressed through movement – of words, notes, legs, arms and whole bodies. All is always moving, all is always shifting. No such thing as stillness exists, its appearance is movement delayed in time. What seems terrifying, only seems to be unmoving. The cage of one’s winter imprisonment in that sense is like a frozen sculpture. It looks rigid and cold, but inside of it so much is happening. The ice melts. It will become a lake in the forest. And just like a young deer, I will step forward, drink from it and breathe out. Oh, how refreshing!