5 Poetry Collections to Read During the Winter Solstice

The winter solstice arrives on December 21 this year and marks the shortest, darkest day in the year, when the sun is lowest in the sky. Though this may seem gloomy, the winter solstice packs powerful meaning and symbolism – it’s a nod to hibernating and cozying up, as well as rebirth. After the winter solstice, the days begin to get steadily lighter and sunlight lasts longer. Therefore, many see it as an optimistic date and the start of a journey out of darkness. These five collections can help you connect with the spirit and hope of the solstice.


Nocturnal by Wilder


Wilder describes the poems in this collection as “constellations to guide those on a journey of healing and self-discovery, no matter how dark the night,” a direct parallel to the winter solstice. Four aptly-named sections – “Dusk,” “Northern Lights,” “Howl,” and “Lucid Dreams” – invite you to slink into these inky landscapes and find relaxation, dreaminess, and reflection within them. 


Winter Trees by Sylvia Plath


The title and cover of this collection, written in the last year of Sylvia Plath’s life and published posthumously, foreshadow the starkness found within and mirror the winter season. Plath uses winter imagery to sharpen and intensify her famously confessional poetry, resulting in chilling lines that confront darkness head-on. 


Woolgathering by Patti Smith


In this collection, which also includes personal photographs by the author, National Book Award winner Patti Smith describes what the act and duty of “woolgathering” means to her – capturing “a fleeting thought” and piecing these sporadic insights together into something meaningful. This exercise in being mindful and recognizing the shifting inspirations of daily life resonates with the winter solstice. In this collection, Smith stargazes, wanders, and spends time in the towering world of her own mind.


What The Moon Gave Her by Christi Steyn


“Your birth happens more than once, so sink into each feeling of uncertainty and ride with the waves,” reads the synopsis of What the Moon Gave Her, Christi Steyn’s debut collection. This reflects the winter solstice, where the sun goes through an annual cycle of death and rebirth. The collection is a celebration of how nature can reawaken us, with Steyn taking inspiration, comfort, and renewed strength from the moon, the ocean, and other earthly forces. 


Winter Hours by Mary Oliver


The quietness and slow pace of winter, most clearly exemplified by the solstice, invite the opportunity to be in dialogue with literature. In Winter Hours, Mary Oliver illustrates just how important it is to get in touch with one’s influences and writerly ancestors, with poems that address and exalt the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and others. In addition to writing about and toward her favorite poets, Oliver also writes about small moments, her everyday scenery, and her home, perfect for evoking the groundedness of solstice. 


Happy reading and happy winter solstice!