The Reindeer

The reindeer winter-cries in vain for his lost mate
His cry turns brittle frosty-mist, ascends the clouds.
His hooves make run, his antlers gouge the whited shrouds
That veil the trees. He stops. The land is desolate:
A savagery rests still and wild—the trees are stark
The air is cutting, rivers break, the woods are dark.
Reflections are instilled within the freezing streams,
Mirror to a world which lives and preys on dreams.

Silent falls the night, it speaks no calm or peace.
The birds are gone, the leaves are dropped, the wind is dead.
As winter grips the savage land, so does life cease
Or wish it would. The snow beyond the grove is red,
Fierce-trampled. Here a starving wolf has preyed and killed.
The reindeer lashes torment at the bitter cold;
Breaks the silence, screams its anguish. And grows old.
The night rests quiet. Life rests, too, when death is willed.



A Sonnet Set in 1933

This new administration may do well.
The radio reports that happy days
Are here again. If so then whence this hell
In pauper shades of sepias and greys?
While Hollywood spins glitter into cash
Fitzgerald slowly drinks himself to death
The Ritz retains the acrid smell of ash
Depression’s drought rains dust upon the heath.
In Europe, a new chancellor urges hate,
Denounces goodness, shutters every door
But one—expansion of a master state
His selfish struggle pointing towards war.
The struggles of this brave new world make clear
Fear’s not the only thing we need to fear.



Brian Yapko is an attorney residing in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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18 Responses

  1. Margaret Coats

    “The Reindeer” makes excellent use of the hexameter line, and presents a wealth of detailed images that suggest, rather than say, what seems to be happening. This is a good choice for the “speech acts” of an animal poem. The profound point about life arises merely from reflection on the word’s appearance in lines 11-12, and its reappearance in the final line. Well done.

    The 1933 sonnet is a great presentation of a significant moment in time, with the present succinctly described and the now-known future outlined at the same time. Love the color in “pauper shades of sepias and greys.” The couplet is magnificent in juxtaposing a reference to Huxley’s novel, Brave New World (published 1932) concerning a “master state,” to the inaccurate, but at the time inspiring, inaugural address (1933) of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


      Thank you, Margaret. I really appreciate the detailed analysis and observations. I’m especially glad to know that the Huxley reference was caught.

  2. C.B. Anderson


    Methinks I read the first poem here a couple of months ago, but my problems with it haven’t changed. I am not familiar with the verb “winter-cry.” Is this supposed to mean a cry that’s made in winter? Yes, yes, I know you have a valid poetic license, but there must have been other ways to express the idea.

    A fact check: “[H]is lost mate” Do not reindeer, like most herding herbivores, have alpha males that control a harem of females? Such animals would worry less about a lost mate than about some other male trying to obtain her favors.

    And I want to know exactly how anyone or anything ascends a cloud. Almost anything can ascend TO a cloud, but once there, what’s left to be done?

    I can understand why others have approved of this poem, but for me it seems like an aborted early effort by Matthew Arnold.

    The second poem is not bad, but it needs some punctuation at the end of lines 6, 7, & 11. I think the final couplet is superb, reminding us of FDR’s famous words.


      I appreciate your comments. Entirely poetic license in poem one where I was going for a mood irrespective of scientific accuracy. And I will look at punctuation more closely on my next poems.

  3. Margaret Coats

    One can ascend clouds (plural) by using them (figuratively) as steps, as when one literally ascends stairs. The cry becomes colder as it goes up in the atmosphere, in accord with science.

    • C.B. Anderson


      That’s a far cry and a big str-e-t-c-h, which is allowable, if only barely tolerable. As we have all learned recently, Science is for sale.

      • Margaret Coats

        Stretch your imagination to the Hebrew Genesis and to ancient China. Jacob’s Ladder is often illustrated as a staircase of clouds with angels ascending and descending. The Chinese Immortals ascended into heaven on clouds. To see that the conveyance is just as likely to have been a cloud stairway as a single cloud hovercraft, search for “dhgate ladder of clouds” from Chinese decorator firm dhgate, and scroll down for a variety of forms.

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both of these poems. “The Reindeer” for the vivid imagery that brings the words alive with a flourish of linguistic magic. I like your innovative use of language – it’s especially effective in; “The snow beyond the grove is red,…” the “Fierce-trampled” that follows is a wonderful touch.

    “A Sonnet Set in 1933” conveys a serious message in keeping with our times, and uses some admirable images to do just that. Like Margaret, one of my favorites is those “pauper shades…”. I also like the idea of Hollywood spinning “glitter into cash”. Thank you!

  5. Sally Cook

    Air can have color, flowers sometimes sing in harmony, and animals can feel grief and loss, so why cannot one climb a cloud? Come on, CB, this is a poem, not a lesson, as I know a poet of your stature knows very well. In such a construct, your driver’s license will always be trumped by your poetic one.
    Brian, you have managed to capture the fierce, frozen desolate plane on which your poetic reindeer lives. He is caught between feeling and knowing; a terrible place to be.
    I have stood in his world in deep winter and . immediately recognized his dilemma. “Reindeer” has some powerful moments.

    • C.B. Anderson

      If air had color, Sally, no one would be able to see anything through it. And please send me some seed for those singing flowers you mention. Do we really KNOW that animals feel grief & loss, or do we just imagine that they do? Yes, I understand the nature & function of metaphor, but no one here is ascending clouds — it is the cry turned brittle-frosty that does so, which isn’t difficult to imagine. It’s probably a good thing for us that Nature doesn’t really imitate Art, for otherwise the world would be unnavigable.

  6. Margaret Coats

    I’m back to comment that Mr. Anderson is such a good questioner that I must give a fuller reading of “The Reindeer.” In fact, answers are almost visible in his questions. He objects that a reindeer does not lose his mate, as the herd bull has multiple mates, and young bucks have to attract female favors surreptitiously, if they cannot compete for herd bull position. This tells exactly how it is that the individual reindeer in this poem loses his mate. He is an aging buck, possibly sick or injured. Animals do not reflect on the process of aging; therefore Brian, the poet, tells about the old buck’s condition through images, until in the next-to-last line, he confirms that his reindeer is now old, and indeed dying or already dead. The poem does not say how death takes place, but implies that it does by the poet’s uses of the word “life.” All of this is set up in the poem’s first line, where the reindeer “winter-cries in vain for his lost mate.” The bitter weather of this poem is mid-to-late winter, when the reindeer breeding season has ended (or nearly so), and the herd bull is exhausted. He has no time to feed during mating season; he spends any free time fighting off younger bucks. The reindeer in this poem is in the winter of his life, losing his status and his last mate. The creative word “winter-cries” is not just a cry made by this deer in winter; it suggests the distinctive mating cries heard from mid-autumn to mid-winter, suggesting that this particular cry is a final, unsuccessful appeal for a mate, made by an animal in his final season. In the second line, the cry almost freezes as it ascends the clouds. The cloud ascent image is justified by widely used cultural symbols. And air temperature does go down as the sound waves of the reindeer cry (or anything else, such as airplanes) go higher in the atmosphere–the reader who doubts this needs to do further fact-checking.

    Brian may have been working more for mood than for scientific accuracy in “The Reindeer,” but nature supports him. He is lucky, but successful, as he could not have been had reindeer mating season been in the summer. The only change I might suggest now is a comma after “lives” in line 8, because the real world lives, but does not live on dreams. Rather, it preys on dreams–such as the winter-crying reindeer’s wish for another mate.

    • C.B. Anderson

      This is all very complicated, Margaret. Was it Robert Frost who said, “Too much explanation can ruin a poem”?

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Margaret, “The Reindeer” has been enhanced by your explanation, and I thank you wholeheartedly for going the extra mile. I am not au fait with the life cycle of a reindeer and this insight has enabled me to appreciate Mr. Yapko’s poem on another level. I was enjoying this poem as a conceit – a metaphor for the Winter of our lives, and this other dimension has given me further appreciation for this remarkable piece. Thank you!

      C.B. while I may be able to write a reasonable poem, I often have trouble with the analysis side of the art. Margaret and others are showing me the way, and I’m grateful for this sort of input. It enhances my experience on SCP.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Margaret is an expert to whom every reader here at SCP is eternally indebted. If I detect a flaw in her approach, it is only that she is too forgiving and willing to go to great lengths to justify sub-par work. She has done the same with some poems I’ve written, so it’s not for me to complain. As for you, SJB, you are peerless, and your work is nonpareil.

  7. BDW

    A note from Wilude Scabere:
    Though Pope admonishes:
    ‘Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
    Appear in writing or in judging ill;
    But, of the two, less dang’rous is th’ offense
    To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.”

    Although I disagree with Pope’s assessment and his numbers! his point is valuable; however, I do not think it is our era’s problem that we have too much criticism, but rather that we have far too little with too little depth. That is definitely true @SCP. Though I may disagree with Ms. Coats in her assessments, I have found her judgments, among the best @SCP. I do enjoy Mr. Anderson’s critiques, although I am not surprised that he resorts to Frost.

    A note from Usa W. Celebride:
    It is good to be reminded by Mr. Yapko of the shift to federalism in America, which happened across the Globe in the early 20th century with the Russian Communists, Italian Fascists, Japanese Imperialists, German National Socialists, Chinese Communists, countless dictatorships, etc. Sadly such dictatorships still fill the Globe and threaten New Millennial republics.


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