Poem #17: A January Dandelion by George Marion McClellan

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
Book cover to African American Poetry - An Anthology, 1773-1927, Dover Edition.

TitleA January Dandelion

Author: George Marion McClellan

Source:  African-American Poetry: An Anthology, 1773-1927. Dover Thrift Editions. Ed. Joan R. Sherman. 1997. ISBN:  978-0-486-29604-3.

Link: You can find this poem on this website.


All Nashville is a chill. And everywhere
Like desert sand, when the winds blow,
There is each moment sifted through the air,
A powdered blast of January snow.
O! thoughtless Dandelion, to be misled
By a few warm days to leave thy natural bed,
Was folly growth and blooming over soon.
And yet, thou blasted yellow-coated gem,
Full many a heart has but a common boon
With thee, now freezing on thy slender stem.
When the heart has bloomed by the touch of love’s warm breath
Then left and chilling snow is sifted in,
It still may beat but there is blast and death
To all that blooming life that might have been.


Writing about this poem in January feels ever so fitting. Here are another one of those poems that I'm finding myself so enriched by as I sit and ponder it more.  The poem's initial concept of a dandelion thriving during a warm spell in winter, only to suffer a freezing death as snow arrives strikes a great visual and contemplation about the tenacity of the dandelion, something we usually consider a "weed".  

But, of course, the poem has more to offer for us. For instance, the contrast of how the dandelion's bloom has "full manny a heart but a common bloom with thee".  That is, in the dark and drab colors of winter, a blooming dandelion is something that captures people's hearts.  A reminder that in the right context all things thrive and are considered something more.  

There's also the sound of the poem with its use of iambs that make at to the poem's atmosphere. The first four lines carry along smoothly until you hit the "blow" and "blast".  And then there are phrases like "And yet, thou blasted yellow-coated gem"--not just reiterating the strong consonant of "bl" but also are heavy with sounds; it's a line that can be read in so many different ways, evoking a different meaning for the poem with each rendering.  

The poem also speaks deeply about the ways love can affect us and make us feel like that dandelion in winter. The line "When the heart has bloomed by the touch of love’s warm breath" hints that this indeed could be any of us; believing ourselves common and not worthy of attention until we are wooed into blossoming by someone, only to have that love leave us.  In that way, the poem can also be a bit more somber and contemplative. 

Those are my thoughts.  How do you interpret the poem?

About the reflections
This poem is part of a 365 day challenge project that focuses on a poem a day.  Similar projects have included short shorties and photo reflections. Part of the intention of this year's project is to develop a better appreciation and means of reflecting on poetry, something that has never been a strong suit for me.  These reflections therefore do not represent a definitive assessment of the work by me. They are merely an opportunity for me to have a public conversation about what they mean in order to help myself better understand them and mayhaps have a conversation with readers for further insight.  

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