Shakespeare included this vivid winter lyric in his play, Love’s Labours Lost. It strikes a chord in 2021.

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipped and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

GLOSSARY

Dick the shepherd blows his nails
He’s outside. He blows on his fingers to warm them.

ways be foul
The roads are wet and difficult to travel on.

staring owl
He’s staring with his big round eyes.

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot
She’s greasy because she works in the kitchen.
Keel is an old word for cool. She’s stirring the pot
to cool it, so it won’t boil over.

coughing drowns the parson’s saw
The parson is a preacher. Saw in this context is a wise saying,
like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
So many people in the congregation have colds, their coughing
is louder than the preacher’s words.

roasted crabs hiss in the bowl
These are crab apples, not crustaceans. They’re hot, so they hiss.

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