Thursday, June 8, 2017

"Dust of Snow" by Robert Frost

Yesterday evening I began reading Jay Parini's biography of Robert Frost, and very early in the book I came across a reference to one of Frost's poems, "Dust of Snow." So, I then went to my Library of America edition of Frost's poetry, and I found and read the poem at page 205. Here is the poem:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

This morning at about dawn, while I was strolling outside for a few minutes, hoping that the fresh air would relieve this morning's dizziness and nausea, I did not encounter a crow and snow, which would have been quite strange on the Gulf coast in June, but I did see a white osprey circling above me at the bay's shoreline; if I were to guess, I think the bird was probably looking for a mullet breakfast. At that instant, I recalled Frost's poem, I thought about the hungry osprey and the doomed mullet, and for reasons I cannot articulate, I had a change of mood, and -- yes --- this morning's experience "saved some part / Of a day I had rued." As a serendipitous marriage of Nature and poetry, today's special moment has made all the difference.

Now, as for the poem, I wonder if the "crow," "snow," "hemlock," and the persona's passive role in the poetic moment have significance beyond what I see as the obvious surface meaning.  And the notion of a "heart" having a "change of mood" is intriguing.  Also, I wonder what was so rueful for the persona. But I might be making too much of nothing, or I might be overlooking something more significant. Well, taking a different, more formal approach, I resorted to a mechanical process by using an old trick I learned from a high school teacher; I took time this morning to transcribe the poem as a continuous prose sentence without line breaks, and that simple process helped me to see more clearly and to appreciate better the poem and the deceptively plain but actually complicated artistry of the poet's choices of diction, rhythm, and rhyme.

Well, I've babbled on quite long enough. Tell me what you think of Frost's poem.


  1. Tim,

    This is what I said on my post about this poem:

    "This is a short poem by Robert Frost, but it speaks of something important--the way small or seemingly inconsequential events can affect us even though the event itself has really nothing in common with its effect.

    I think Frost's genius is in his ability to see the little things that are of real consequence though few of us see them at the time. His poetry isolates those moments, those events, and shows us what we have missed."

    1. Yes, Fred, I wholeheartedly agree, and your explication and observations are expressed very nicely. I'm envious of your precise clarity.

    2. Tim,

      Thanks for the kind words. It's not often that someone characterizes my posts as "precise clarity."

  2. I like Fred's thoughts on this poem, Tim. I also think it speaks to the power of nature to heal.

    1. Yes, Margot, I think something like healing is sometimes available if we will just take time to go beyond ourselves in order to observe and absorb.

  3. the first stanza is a haiku; the second not so much... haiku eschews personal reference, pointing instead to a feature of the real world, the moon, a bird, grass, shit, a tree, etc. the intention being to acquaint the reader with reality as it is... which most of us don't know, or are more comfortable ignoring... prolonged concentration of this sort leads to what is known as "enlightenment", a misleading term that, in fact, doesn't exist... but a person can't know that until it happens to them...
    paradox, imo, is the chief characteristic of this life, warping our perceptions out of whack...

    1. As always, Mudpuddle, you play chess as I play checkers. In other words, you give me much to ponder, but I feel ill equipped for such pondering.

    2. tx for the reply; i know what i wrote is controversial, at least in this country, and i appreciate the opportunity to talk a little Zen...