The Cross of Snow

    IN the long, sleepless watches of the night,
    A gentle face -- the face of one long dead --
    Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
    The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
    Here in this room she died; and soul more white
    Never through martyrdom of fire was led
    To its repose; nor can in books be read
    The legend of a life more benedight.

    There is a mountain in the distant West
    That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
    Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
    Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
    These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
    And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)


Composed in 1870 this very personal poem mourning the loss of his wife was discovered among Longfellow's effects three years after his death in 1882. It's about his beloved second wife Franny and the reference to martyrdom by fire is a literal one. She perished tragically in their parlor when her dress caught fire while she and her daughter were sealing envelopes using a candle and hot wax. Nearly consumed by the flames, she died later that evening from shock. Longfellow was badly injured trying to save her and eighteen years later he sat in the same room and penned this sonnet.

The Cross of the Snow is at an altitude 14,005 feet,located approximately 100 miles west of Denver and about 15 miles south of Vail, Colorado in the Sawatch mountain range. Longfellow had been browsing through a book of western scenery when he was inspired by a picture of it. In the summertime from a certain angle on the east face of Notch Mountain an image of an almost perfect snow cross emerges and remains visible until autumn.

Painter Thomas Moran (1837 - 1926) did a well known oil painting in 1875 two years after it was discovered by Ferdinand V. Hayden while traveling deep in the Colorado Rockies. Today it's reasonably accessible by hiking trails.

Sources:

The American Experience | Lost in the Grand Canyon | People:
www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/canyon/peopleevents/ pandeAMEX04.html

One hundred thirty-one years ago on July 10, Henry Longfellow:
www.geocities.com/~bblair/010710f.htm

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner:
http://www.geocities.com/~bblair/hwlcrosssnow.htm

CST Approved.

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