Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl

John Greenleaf Whittier 1807 (Haverhill) – 1892 (Hampton Falls)

To the Memory of the Household It Describes
This Poem is Dedicated by the Author:

"As the Spirits of Darkness be stronger in the dark, so Good Spirits,which be Angels of Light, are augmented not only by the Divine lightof the Sun, but also by our common Wood Fire: and as the CelestialFire drives away dark spirits, so also this our Fire of Wood doth thesame." -- Cor. Agrippa, Occult Philosophy,

Book v.

"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 farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of Storm."     EMERSON, The Snow Storm.

  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 of 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.

 Unwarmed by any sunset light
 The gray day darkened into night,
 A night made hoary with the swarm
 And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
 As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
 Crossed and recrossed the wingëd snow:
 And ere the early bedtime came
 The white drift piled the window-frame,
 And through the glass the clothes-line posts
 Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.

 So all night long the storm roared on:
 The morning broke without a sun;
 In tiny spherule traced with lines
 Of Nature's geometric signs,
 In starry flake, and pellicle,
 All day the hoary meteor fell;
 And, when the second morning shone,
 We looked upon a world unknown,
 On nothing we could call our own.
 Around the glistening wonder bent
 The blue walls of the firmament,
 No cloud above, no earth below, --
 A universe of sky and snow!
 The old familiar sights of ours
 Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
 Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
 Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
 A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
 A fenceless drift what once was road;
 The bridle-post an old man sat
 With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
 The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
 And even the long sweep, high aloof,
 In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
 Of Pisa's leaning miracle.

 A prompt, decisive man, no breath
 Our father wasted: "Boys, a path!"
 Well pleased, (for when did farmer boy
 Count such a summons less than joy?)
 Our buskins on our feet we drew;
 With mittened hands, and caps drawn low,
 To guard our necks and ears from snow,
 We cut the solid whiteness through.
 And, where the drift was deepest, made
 A tunnel walled and overlaid
 With dazzling crystal: we had read
 Of rare Aladdin's wondrous cave,
 And to our own his name we gave,
 With many a wish the luck were ours
 To test his lamp's supernal powers.
 We reached the barn with merry din,
 And roused the prisoned brutes within.
 The old horse thrust his long head out,
 And grave with wonder gazed about;
 The cock his lusty greeting said,
 And forth his speckled harem led;
 The oxen lashed their tails, and hooked,
 And mild reproach of hunger looked;
 The hornëd patriarch of the sheep,
 Like Egypt's Amun roused from sleep,
 Shook his sage head with gesture mute,
 And emphasized with stamp of foot.

 All day the gusty north-wind bore
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on April 25, 2023

3:44 min read

Quick analysis:

Scheme Text too long
Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,264
Words 741
Stanzas 10
Stanza Lengths 2, 1, 1, 9, 18, 12, 10, 25, 27, 2

John Greenleaf Whittier

John Greenleaf Whittier was an influential American Quaker poet and ardent advocate of the abolition of slavery in the United States. more…

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