Ralph Waldo Emerson
’s “The Snowstorm
”, John Greenleaf Whittier
” and James Russell Lowell
’s “The First Snowfall
” are all reactions to a snowstorm. These three poet
s chose the same subject but approached it in entirely different manners. The poems do have some similarities as well as differences. These appear mainly in the descriptions. The authors use theme
, figurative language
, and imagery
, to describe their reactions to the snowfall.
“The Snowstorm” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden's end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courie's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the northwind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every wayward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of snow.
Excerpt of “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier
The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east; we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.
Meanwhile we did our nightly chores,
Brought in the wood from out the doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd's-grass for the cows;
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
Impatient down the stanchion rows
The cattle shake their walnut bows;
While, peering from his early perch
Upon the scaffold's pole of birch,
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent.
(the poem is a total of over 700 lines)
“The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell
The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.
Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.
From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer's muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan's-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.
I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.
I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.
Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, "Father, who makes it snow?"
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.
Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o'er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.
I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
The scar of our deep-plunged woe.
And again to the child I whispered,
"The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!"
Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.
The themes of the poems written by the three authors have their similarities and differences. In Emerson’s poem “The Snowstorm” the author has a favorable attitude. He has an optimistic view toward what many people see as an inconvenience. Emerson delights in the “tumultuous privacy of the storm.”
The theme of his poem is finding the serenity in the storm. Lowell uses “The First Snowfall” to remember his lost daughter. The theme of his poem is that nature can remind us of sorrow and also heal it, “Flake by flake, healing and hiding the scar that renewed our woe.” Like Emerson, Lowell has an optimistic point of view toward the natural event, but the tone Lowell uses is more melancholy. Whittier describes the storm differently from Lowell or Emerson. He feels that he is “Snowbound”. The theme of Whittier’s poem is one of isolation. He feels that he and his family are “shut in from the world without.” Unlike Emerson and Lowell’s optimistic point of view Whittier is more depressed by the storm. He describes nature as a “hard, dull, bitterness of cold.”
Emerson, Lowell, and Whittier use figurative language such as personification and similes to convey their personal feelings toward the snowstorm.
Emerson personifies the snow describing how he “curves his white bastions with projected roof round every windward stake, or tree, or door.” Lowell uses simile in his poem when describing the birds he sees out his window flying though the snowfall; “and the sudden flurries of snowbirds, like brown leaves whirling by.” Whittier uses both personification, such as Emerson does, and simile, similar to Lowell. Also, looking out his window Whittier describes what he observes, “the clothesline posts looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.”
Imagery appeals to at least one of the senses. Using imagery, which each poet does, connects the poetry with the reader. Emerson begins his poem describing the snowstorm as being “announced by all the trumpets of the sky.” This image appeals to the sense of sound. The author depicts the snow as having a “swan-like form” which creates a visual picture in the mind of the reader, imagining the white color and delicacy of the swan and snow.
Lowell, like Emerson, uses the image of swan; “the stiff-rails softened to a swan’s-down.” Lowell uses this image to describe something other than the snow. The father in Lowell’s poem thinks about the headstone of his daughter and about “how the flakes were folding it gently.” The reader can feel what the father feels through his use of imagery. Through Whittier’s use of visual imagery the connection between the reader and poem grows. For example, the reader can see “the sun through dazzling snow-mist” shine. They can feel “the warm hearth” and hear “the great thought of the chimney laugh.”
Emerson, Lowell, and Whittier used theme, figurative language, and imagery to depict their personal reactions to a snowstorm. They felt feelings from isolation to serenity. The varying descriptions the authors used give each piece unique qualities. The three poets chose the subject of a snowstorm, but didn’t always approach it the same way. Emerson, Lowell, and Whittier were all from the same period in history, but lived different lives, which effected how they saw events and shaped the style of their poetry.