Times and Seasons – 2021 in Poems

As Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, ‘there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens’. Just as surely, there is a poem for every one of these times and seasons.

In 2021, I put this premise to the test. When I wrote my weekly email to my siblings, I sought out a poem to reflect the spirit of the day. Sometimes the poem related to the physical season, sometimes to political events, and sometimes it captured past/present synergies.

Here’s a taste of my poetic journey through 2021’s times and seasons.

January – ‘On the Pulse of the Morning’ by Maya Angelou

January 2021 saw the inauguration of a new president in the US. The occasion witnessed a powerful poetic statement from Amanda Gorman (‘The Hill We Climb’), but I chose to acknowledge the event by going back a few decades to Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. On that day, it was another black poet, Maya Angelou, who addressed the crowd with her words – ‘On the Pulse of the Morning’.

Source: PBS Learning – ‘Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

Angelou’s poem ends like this:

Here, on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, and into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope—

Good morning.

Beginning a new year with grace and civility seems like a promising idea.

February – ‘The Summer Day’ by Mary Oliver

Summer in the southern hemisphere drew to a close. I had begun my poetic month with Macbeth’s rather depressing view that life is ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ (Act 5, Scene 5, Macbeth, William Shakespeare), but I ended it on a more uplifting note – Mary Oliver contemplating the culmination of the season in ‘The Summer Day’:

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

March – ‘I Am Woman’ by Helen Reddy

Joining a groundswell of grief, pain and frustration, I attended the #March4Justice Rally on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra on 15 March. Helen Reddy’s anthemic ‘I Am Woman’ was belted out with gusto – no harmony, just full-throated unison.

You can bend but never break me

Cause it only serves to make me

More determined to achieve my final goal

And I come back even stronger

Not a novice any longer

‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul.

Later in the year, on 30 November, the Australian Human Rights Commission tabled Set the Standard: Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces. It remains to be seen how many of the 28 recommendations, aimed at making Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces ‘safe and respectful’, will be acted upon.

April – ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ by William Whiting

In April, I watched the live telecast from St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, of the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. One of the hymns sung during the service was the naval hymn, ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’, a melancholic prayer ‘for those in peril on the sea’.

Eternal Father, strong to save,

Whose arm does bind the restless wave,

Who bids the mighty ocean deep

Its own appointed limits keep;

O hear us when we cry to Thee

For those in peril on the sea.

On the eve of the funeral, soprano Alexandra Stevenson sang the hymn in an empty Portsmouth Cathedral, in a tribute to the prince.

I know the hymn’s focus is on endangered human life but, whenever I hear it, my thoughts turn also to imperilled marine life.

Flower arrangement, St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle

May – ‘Last of His Tribe’ by Oodgeroo Noonucaal

First Nations peoples were on my mind in May.

I was the proofreader for Larry Brandy’s Wiradjuri Country, a children’s book published by the National Library of Australia. Brandy’s beautiful picture book weaves connections between landscape (and skyscape), plants, animals, peoples, and stories in the region centred on three rivers: Wambuul (Macquarie River) in the north, Marrambidya (Murrumbidgee River) in the south, and Milawa (Murray River) through its heart.

Larry Brandy reading from Wiradjuri Country

Also in May, I attended a book launch for Anita Heiss’s Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, an historical novel set in Gundagai and Wagga Wagga in the mid-19th century, told from the perspective of Wagadhaany (Wog-a-dine), a young Wiradjuri woman.

When Aunty Elaine introduced Heiss’s book at the Canberra launch, she asked us to remember all the Aboriginal writers who had gone before. I thought of Oodgeroo Noonucaal and, later, of her poem ‘Last of His Tribe’ about Geerbo (Willie Mackenzie), the last Darwarbada man. It is a poem that speaks of great loss:

I asked and you let me hear

e soft vowelly tongue to be heard now

No more for ever. soft vowelly tongue to be heard now

No more for ever.

You singer of ancient tribal songs,

You leader once in the corroboree,

You twice in fierce tribal fights

With wild enemy blacks from over the river,

All gone, all gone.

In the work of authors like Larry Brandy and Anita Heiss, and through the dedication of people like Dr Stan Grant and Dr John Rudder in the Wiradjuri Dictionary, some words and languages and understandings are being restored.

June – ‘To Know the Dark’ by Wendell Berry

Autumn turned to winter, and with the change in seasons the mornings grew darker. Wendell Berry’s ‘To Know the Dark’ reminded me that there is much to be learnt from the darkness. Like the light, it, too, can bloom and sing.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,

And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,

And is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

July – ‘The Olympic Games’ by J. W.

The COVID-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics kicked off in late July 2021, and I unearthed a piece of doggerel published in The Bulletin on the eve of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The writer welcomed the ‘athletes undaunted and well-tried at home’ to the ‘land of the blossoming gum’ and expressed the hope:

And when all is over – the laurels are won

And the athletes return from the games –

Then Melbourne will be, when the cheering is done,

Among the most cherished of names.

Whether the poet’s vision was realised or not is a matter of conjecture. Sydneysiders would surely disagree. But, in Melbourne’s defence, I would note that the southern city was named the World’s Most Liveable City for seven successive years (2011–1017).

August – ‘Life Cycle (for Big Jim Phelan) by Bruce Dawe

By late winter, Australian Rules Football is getting down to the ‘business end’ of the season. No poet has better encapsulated the place of Aussie Rules in the hearts and minds of Victorians than Bruce Dawe in ‘Life Cycle (for Big Jim Phelan)’. (Although much of Dawe’s illustrious career was spent in rugby league country (i.e. Queensland), he was born and raised in Melbourne.)

When children are born in Victoria

they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,

having already begun a lifetime’s barracking.

They will not grow old as those from the more northern states grow old,

for them it will always be three-quarter time

with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term.

I claim iconic status for Dawe’s ‘Life Cycle’. It was first published in The Age newspaper in 1967 and still appears regularly in Australian poetry anthologies.

September – ‘Foreign Lands’ by Henry Lawson

With many Australians unable to leave even their local communities, international travel was the stuff of dreams, so I tapped into Henry Lawson’s ‘Foreign Lands’. When Lawson wrote the poem, in 1897, he harked back to even earlier (frankly, imperialist) times when ‘the world was wide to travel, and the roving spirit strong’. He thought those days were long gone, but he did suggest an alternative:

Ah, my girl, our lives are narrow, and in sordid days like these,

I can hate the things that banished ‘Foreign Lands across the seas’,

And with all the world before us, God above us – hearts and hands,

I can sail the seas in fancy far away to Foreign Lands.

Adventuring ‘in fancy’ remained the lot of most travel-starved Australians.

October – ‘Home’ by Warsan Shire

My movie club, restricted to free-to-air streaming services, watched Rosemary’s Way on SBS on Demand. The documentary tells the story of 2021 Australian of the Year Local Hero Rosemary Kariuki’s volunteer work among migrant and refugee women in Sydney. From people experiencing trauma and isolation, Kariuki coaxed shy and hopeful smiles. There was a glimmer of hope that their journeys to Australia would lead to new friendships and a new place to call home.

Home’ is the title of a poem by Warsan Shire, a British poet born in Kenya to Somali parents. The poem begins with these words: ‘no one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark’. It ends like this:

you have to understand,

no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

who would choose to spend days

and nights in the stomach of a truck

unless the miles travelled

meant something more than journey

Source: Freedom from Torture

November – ‘An Alternative Geometry of the Universe’ by Maggie Wang

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (commonly referred to as COP26) was held from 31 October to 13 November. As a conference tie-in, young poets were asked to respond to the UK’s COP26 presidency theme of ‘Nature’. The winning entry was Maggie Wang’s ‘An Alternative Geometry of the Universe’.

Used with permission. Open Government Licence v3.0

Wang’s poem traces a cycle of the natural world from the purchase of cherries to clouds that ‘tessellate … across the mountains’, and from salmon-chasing bears to the bees that follow them. Eventually, the poem comes full circle and returns to the ripening cherries:

On the way, they [the bees] will have passed an orchard beginning to bloom

and dipped their tongues between the petals as they flew.

In their wake, the sky will have swarmed heavy with pollen

and the scent of sugar thickening into cherries.

December – ‘Simeon’s Farewell’ by Norman Habel

Summer returns at year’s end and, with it, the approach of Christmas. Australians are used to Christmas carols and stories with chilly, northern hemisphere settings, from Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ where ‘frosty wind made moan’ to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is compared to bitter winds, falling snow and pelting rain.

In 1980, Norman Habel published a poetry collection, to accompany paintings by Pro Hart, that set the Christmas story in the Australian bush. One of these poems is ‘Simeon’s Farewell’, an account of the aging prophet’s vision on meeting the baby Jesus.

Being a prophet is rough

and bloody lonely at times.

We are called to shock people

into seeing the cold truth,

the ugly selfish ways they live,

knocking others to boost themselves,

grabbing power by crushing hopes,

and hunting blacks as vermin.

God says some people are bastards,

stuck-up heartless bastards.

And we get no thanks

telling people truths like that…

Perhaps the close of the year is a time to seek out today’s prophets and listen carefully to ‘the cold truth’.

A Poem for Every Time and Season?

Yes, I did find a poem to add to my sibling-email each week in 2021. The selected poems weren’t all serious. I included a good smattering of nonsense from Edward Lear and Spike Milligan, and I re-visited childhood with selections from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, A A Milne’s When We Were Very Young and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

And now, it’s time to sail into a new year. I might join Edward Lear’s Jumblies (‘They went to sea in Sieve, they did, / In a Sieve they went to sea’.)

Source: Edward Lear’s Complete Nonsense (1996), Folio Society

Links and Sources

And, not forgetting those brave seafarers, ‘The Jumblies’ by Edward Lear.

Words for Winter—Australian Children’s Books

Winter in Australia. What picture forms in your mind when you read those words? Beanie-clad children throwing snowballs? Chilly afternoons at the footy? Maybe you’re imagining a goanna hunt, or perhaps you’re thinking about an altogether different name for the cold season—Wurrgeng.

English-language children’s books with winter settings often feature seasonal motifs from the northern hemisphere. Think of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: ‘It is winter in Narnia,’ said Mr. Tumnus, ‘and has been for ever so long …  always winter, but never Christmas’, or Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising which opens on mid-winter’s eve: ‘The Dark has its strongest power of all rising between now and the Twelfth Day. This is their preparing. Theirs is a cold strength, the winter feeds it.’

But winter in Australia doesn’t coincide with Christmas or the Twelfth Day, and it doesn’t always bring snow. How have Australian authors interpreted the season in their writing for children?

Here is a collection of Australian titles about, or set in, winter. There are picture books, junior fiction titles, books for readers in early adolescence, and poems.


Cover image courtesy of Allen & Unwin

The Snow Wombat /  Susannah Chambers (text); Mark Jackson (illus.) (2016)

Ages 3+

Wombat traverses a snowy landscape through Australia’s high country, encountering a variety of fauna and flora, en route to a warm, deep burrow. Lilting, sometimes rhyming, text; double-page, borderless illustrations.

Snow on the stockman’s hut.
Snow on the crows.

Snow on the woolllybutt.
Snow on my…

(Shortlisted for 2017 CBCA Book of the Year, Early Childhood)

Cover image courtesy of Stephen Michael King

A Bear and a Tree / Stephen Michael King (text and illus.) (2012; 2019)

Ages 3+

Ren is sad that her favourite tree has lost its leaves. Her friend, Bear, needs to hibernate, but keeps Ren company for a time before gathering some of the leaves he has collected for his winter bed and placing them on Ren’s favoured tree.

A Bear and a Tree was first published in 2012. It is no longer available as a separate book, but it is included in the 2019 release, The Puffin Book of Bedtime Stories.

Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House

Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons / Il Sung Na (text and illus.) (2011)

Ages 3+

Although not created by an Australian author, I’m sneaking this one in because of its world-wide appeal. South Korean author/illustrator Il Sung Na traces the winter lives of land animals, sea creatures, and birds across different continents, and through a variety of  seascapes and landscapes. With minimal text, the reader follows creatures that hibernate, migrate, change layers (fur, feathers) for winter warmth, and search for food in inhospitable environments.

First published in Australia as A Book of Winter (2009) by Koala Books, it is now available through Penguin Random House as Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons.

(Selected for the Best of 2011 Children’s Books List by Kirkus Reviews)

Cover image courtesy of Little Pink Dog Books

Johnny’s Beard / Michelle Worthington (text), Katrin Dreiling (illus.) (2018)  

Ages 5+

Johnny’s beard is his pride and joy. One day, he meets some animals and birds afraid of freezing when the snow comes. Johnny offers a warm, safe haven in his splendiferous’ beard, but soon regrets his decision—the creatures stab and peck and poke. Johnny chops off his beard. The creatures snuggle into their hairy nest, and, come spring, Johnny sports a new whiskery adornment—a moustache.

(Shortlisted for 2019 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards, 5–8 years)

Cover image courtesy of OUP

Winnie and Wilbur in Winter / Valerie Thomas (text) and Korky Paul (illus.) (2016)

Ages 5+ (Series: Winne and Wilbur)

Although Valerie Thomas is an Australian author, Winnie and Wilbur in Winter has a distinctly northern hemisphere feel. Winnie, a witch, and her black cat, Wilbur, are  tired of winter so Winnie casts a spell and turns her immediate environment into summer. Her garden erupts—hibernating animals waken, spring flowers bloom and wither in the heat, neighbours crowd around seeking warmth. Winnie casts a new spell and returns to winter. With a good slug of hot chocolate and a serve of muffins, she decides that ‘Winter is lovely too’.

Cover image courtesy of Honeyant

Tracking and Hunting Ruumiya / Margaret James (text); Jesse Young (illus.) (2018)

Ages 5+

This book, part of the Reading Tracks series, was originally designed for ‘Indigenous learners, Middle School age and older’, but is also suitable for younger children.

The book opens:

It is winter in the Western Desert, real cold.
The land is dry and the grass is long.

A young girl, her older sister and their cousin set out on a goanna hunt. (The Luritja word for goanna is ‘Ruumiya’.)  ‘The goanna is sleeping because it is winter, and its body slows down in the cold.’ The family group catch a goanna, gut it, and cook it under hot coals. Later, they ‘light the long, dry grass … so it will burn down and clear the country’, enabling them to ‘see the goannas’ burrows better next time’.

Tracking and hunting Ruumiya was inspired by a hunting trip led by Elder Daisy Tjupamtarri Ward in her country near Warakurna in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, Central Desert.

Cover image courtesy of Starfish Bay Publishing

Seed Magic / Natalie McKinnon (text); Margaret Tolland (illus.) (2018)

Ages 6+

A gentle spider shows Anxious Ant how seeds can be saved over winter and planted in the spring, thereby yielding new food for another season.

(Starfish Bay is due to publish The Wildlife Winter Games in late 2019: ‘Competing against each other in 10 winter sporting events are a selection of Arctic and Antarctic creatures that are experts on snow and ice.’)


The next three books take readers through one year’s complete seasonal cycle.

Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House

All through the Year / Jane Godwin (text); Anna Walker  (illus.) (2010)

Ages 3+

It’s hard to go past any book with illustrator Anna Walker’s name on the cover, and Jane Godwin’s text uses rhyme effectively.

Teachers’ resources for this book are available via Reading Australia.

(Shortlisted for the 2011 Australian Book Industry Awards, Book of the Year for Younger Children)

Cover image courtesy of HarperCollins

The ABC Book of Seasons / Helen Martin and Judith Simpson (text); Cheryl Orsini (illus.)  ( 2014)

Ages 3+

A book for the very young. From an illustrated selection in the section on winter, children choose which clothes are most suited to cold weather.

(Shortlisted for the 2015 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards, 5–8 years)

Cover image courtesy of Allen & Unwin

Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu / Diane Lucas (text); Ken Searle (illus.)  (2005)

Ages 5–16

‘In the Gundjeihmi-speaking people’s land in Kakadu, there are six seasons in the year.’ The months of June, July and August fall in the season of Wurrgeng when the mornings are cool and the wind blows from the south-east. The creeks dry up, but the floodplains are rich with flowering waterlilies and visiting birds, insects and people. Freshwater crocodiles (gumugen) lay eggs, the blue quandong (yirrlalal) flowers and fruits, the kapok trees (andjed) lose their leaves, and the yams (angindjek and garrbaba) are ready to dig. This is a book to pore over and learn from.

Detailed teachers’ notes are available via Allen and Unwin.


Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House

Goblin in the Snow / Victor Kelleher (text); Stephen Michael King (illus.) (2010, 2014)

Ages 6–7   73pp. (Series: Gibblewort the Goblin) Adventure

Gibblewort the goblin thinks he is headed for Austria but, at the last minute, the address label on his postbag is changed to ‘Snowy Mountains, Australia’. In his unexpected destination, Gibblewort encounters snow gums and brumbies and a wedge-tailed eagle. His adventures continue when he inadvertently becomes a champion snowboard rider. Eventually, Gibblewort is trapped in a giant snowball and has to wait until the spring thaw before he can make his way home to Ireland.

This title, first published in 2010, is no longer available as a separate book, but is included in the 2014 release, Gibblewort the Goblin: The Winter Escape Collection. (The second title in the collection, Goblin at the Zoo, is set in Australia, but not noticeably during winter.)

Cover image courtesy of HarperCollins

Baffled! / Jen Storer (text); Claire Robertson (illus.) (2018)

Ages 8+ 288pp. (Series: Truly Tan) Mystery

Clearly set in the depths of winter, this story opens with Tan and her sisters quoting lines from Shakespeare’s ‘Blow, blow thou winter wind’. The  winter season plays a role in the story: there are preparations for the Royal Winter Lantern Festival and a competition to crown the Winter Queen. Meanwhile, Tan is kept busy with secret spy business—investigating the Windrustle sisters and their seemingly haunted house.


The three books listed below are out of print but, given the stature of their authors, copies are still available in public libraries and can also be obtained through second-hand booksellers.

The Winter Door / Isobelle Carmody  (2006)

Ages 11-14 315pp. (Series: The Gateway Trilogy) Fantasy

Rage Winnoway longs to return to the land of Valley but finds it ‘destroyed by a cruel, enchanted winter flowing through a gateway from another world’. (Quote from author’s website.)

When the Mountains Change Their Tune / Eleanor Stodart (1985)

Ages 12+ 140pp. Adventure

Four male youths set out from Canberra and head to Guthega for a cross-country skiing adventure. They become trapped by a blizzard on the top of Dicky Cooper Bogong. One of the party is injured in a fall; another develops hypothermia. Now lost, the boys build a snow cave to survive. Although two boys return to Guthega, a search party has already begun looking for the missing contingent. All return safely.

Although the language is slightly dated, Stodart’s story moves at a good pace and contains detailed information on skiing.

Winged Skis / Elyne Mitchell (text); Annette Macarthur-Onslow (illus.) (1964)

Ages 12+ 247pp. Adventure

Fourteen-year-old Barry Milton is living with his parents in Thredbo while continuing his education by correspondence. Barry teams up with 17-year-old Michael Hastings and the pair take skiing lessons together, go on cross-country runs and compete in the NSW ski championships.

Elyne Mitchell’s in-depth knowledge of Australia’s high country is evident in detailed accounts of the landscape around Geehi, Mount Twynam’s west spur, Jagungal and Mount Sentinel, and she includes precise descriptions of snow conditions and skiing manoeuvres.

Mitchell also weaves a range of literary references into her story, including quotes from David Campbell’s, ‘Winter Stock Route’.

Despite somewhat dated language, the book may well appeal to readers who are skiing enthusiasts.


There are plenty of Australian poems featuring winter. A handy way to source these is via AustLit or the Australian Poetry Library using either keyword or subject searches. (Fees or subscriptions are required for complete access. Check details on the respective websites.)

Another avenue, for older poems, is the National Library of Australia’s Trove service. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, newspapers published poetry regularly. Poems found via Trove are generally out of copyright and can be freely used.

To round out this post, here are some brief extracts from Australian winter poems.

On winter afternoons
the city is a vast art gallery,
an exhibition of paintings and sketches:
views of streets, squares, buildings,
their perspectives muted in the dim light,
edges softened by a gentle rubbing of fog

From ‘Winter Afternoons’,  Poems in My Luggage / Colin Thiele (1989)

Our son splashes carefully home
from puddle to puddle,
Deep stepping stones.

We walk a shout behind
watching from our clothes
breathing clouds into the sky.

Around us the hard economy of winter,
frugal colour schemes, and underfoot
the worn currency of leaves.

From  ‘Winter Piece’, Readings from Ecclesiastes / Peter Goldsworthy (1982)

It is Morn—and the frost-bleaching hills are all white,
Like the bones of a summer world dead;
And the ice-crusted waters blink blind in the light,
Like the eyes in a sightless man’s head

From ‘A Winter Morning’ / Charles Harpur (1853)


  • Age recommendations in this post are based on publisher and review websites, and on my own reading.
  • If you have other suggestions for this wintery list, please include them in a comment.


  • In Australia, publishers are legally required to deposit copies of their publications with the National Library of Australia. I was able to read all books cited in this blog post at the National Library—a cultural institution that has my ongoing affection and gratitude.
  • Reading Time, the journal of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, has reviewed some of the titles mentioned above as well as winter-themed books by non-Australian writers. You can find those reviews here.

Excerpt from Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu / Diane Lucas (text); Ken Searle (illus.)  (Allen & Unwin, 2005)