Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"The Snow-Storm" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

First, on the occasion of today's near-panic in the American northeast about a snow-storm, here is an 1841 poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson (a 19th century writer who deserves more attention now in the 21st century).

"The Snow-Storm"

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 steed and traveler stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind's masonry
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward 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's 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 structure, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

Whatever else you might take from this blank-verse poem by Emerson, I invite you to consider carefully the final six lines; "Art" and "frolic architecture" become dominant concepts in the poem, expressions of transcendent Nature as an otherwise ineffable aesthetic which is paradoxically both superior to and compatible with human existence.

However, you might have either more of something different to say about Emerson's poem. So, now it is your turn.

And, by the way, I hope everyone in the northeast somehow survives the much ballyhooed snow-storm (which will probably be "full of sound and fury / signifying nothing").


  1. there's a lot of good stuff in Emerson; in spite of being a bit pontifical, he said some pointed and accurate things... personification of snow is a new one, and quite well done, i thought... i admit to some confusion as to what the words after "mimic" refer to... oh, no, i get it: contrasting the snow with the wind... nice fat poem... tx...

  2. I like Emerson and that poem, which I have known and liked long. It's one of his best.

    John Greenleaf Whittier's "Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl" takes its epigraph from "The Snow-Storm" and makes an interesting comparison.

    As for the snowstorm, it is magnificent and astounding. We have gone from all snow melted last night to three-fresh-feet-and-still-snowing in less than a day. The plowed walls of snow in front of the house are eight feet or a bit more by the lamppost so far.

    This is the first time I remember Otsego Country closing all of its roads to all but emergency vehicles. The weather guys say the brunt of it will be done by 7 a.m. It's quite a storm.

    1. brother and i thought we had it bad, earlier this year... time to get a generator, i guess; what global warming does, is warm up the poles and drive the storms south... the science is fairly clear, but extensive and complex... a kind of flattening of affect...

    2. Still pouring at 11 a.m. the next day, though the flakes are smaller. Unbelievable. Biggest, quickest snowfall in my two decades here.

    3. Sounds like a good day for hot coffee, warm fireplace, and poetry reading. Enjoy and be safe, Marly.