It’s the first day of winter and a light layer of snow still covers the ground from New England’s last storm. Seems to me like the perfect day to think about poets and painters who have been moved by falling snow to put pen to paper. Here is a small collection of their thoughts with a special nod to Whittier.
John Greenleaf Whittier (December 17, 1807 – September 7, 1892) was an American Quaker poet and advocate of the abolition of slavery in the United States. Frequently listed as one of the Fireside Poets, he was influenced by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Whittier is especially remembered for his anti-slavery writings and wonderful poems such as The Barefoot Boy, and in particular for his book Snow-Bound.
Every so often there’s a Snowbound celebration at Whittier’s childhood home in Haverhill, MA.
In 2010 I attended one of these special events. When deciding to blog about it this week I felt sad because all of my pictures seem to have disappeared when my computer crashed a few years back, but then my daughter mentioned she might have some. Yay, she did and thanks to her I can share them here!
While the narrative poem is read aloud, local performers reenact what it was like to be stuck inside during the three day blizzard. Whittier wrote about this storm from a true memory of his childhood. Today’s actors sit in front of the exact hearth in the very same room where Whittier played and dreamed during that long ago time and we in turn got to witness the scene firsthand. One of the highlights was a ride around the property in a horse drawn wagon.Below is a beautiful painting of how the Haverhill homestead looked during the late 1800s.
Whittier’s Birthplace, by Thomas Hill 1829-1908
He later moved to Amesbury, MA. That home is also open to the public.
John Greenleaf Whittier Home in Amesbury, Massachusetts
Below is the opening of Snow-Bound (the complete poem is very long, but you can find it online with a quick google search). Click on the stamp if you’d like to see it larger.
Snow-Bound 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.
Snowbound c. 1900 by John Henry Twachtman
Below is another section of Snow-Bound by Whittier.
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!Three more writers on the topic of snow.
Whether you have snow or not, may your holiday season be filled with kindness, a genuine sense of well-being, and lots of fun!
You might enjoy this humorous post from two years ago when we had more than our share of snow in New England. Click here!