Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl

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Poem by Whittier, published in 1866. It is mainly in iambic tetrameter couplets, although the verse is sometimes varied by alternating rhymes.

The poet recalls the years of his boyhood, when a sudden snowstorm would transform his Quaker father's Massachusetts farm and its usual routine into an enchanted white realm of adventure. The family gathered during the evening before the fireplace, where his father told of his early experiences in the Canadian woods and the New England farms and fisheries, and his mother read from Quaker religious books, or described family adventures during Indian raids. An uncle, “innocent of books,” offered tales of hunting and fishing, and an aunt shared memories of her girlhood, while other participants in the quiet festivities were the poet's brother and sisters, the merry schoolmaster, and a guest, the religious enthusiast Harriet Livermore. Later, after all retired, they lay awake listening to the unaccustomed sounds of the storm. In the morning, the snow-blanketed world outside appeared quiet and strange, but soon there was a bustle of visits and domestic activity, although the little community might remain isolated for weeks. After the poet has given these minute Flemish pictures of his own childhood, he realizes that the “Angel of the backward look” must clasp the book of the past, and recognizes that he must attend to the duties of later years. Yet haply, as life slopes down to death, he may pause in some lull of life, realize “the grateful sense of sweetness near,” stretch forth the hands of memory “and, pausing, take with forehead bare the benediction of the air.”

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807—1892) American poet and abolitionist