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RALPH WALDO EMERSON, “THE SNOW STORM”

Illustration for Emerson's The Snow Storm

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

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.

For New Year’s: Thomas Hardy, The Darkling Thrush

 

Darkling Thrush il_fullxfull.403522787_jgpmThomas Hardy (1840-1928) wrote this poem at the beginning of the new century, 1900. As with most of Hardy’s works, “The Darkling Thrush” is not for the perpetual optimist.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

 

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.

 

At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

 

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.
Darkling Thrush frost

A Warm Cottage Hearth: Emily Brontë, “The Visionary”

Bronte+Museum+Former+Home+Famed+Bronte+Sisters+bODWeFEaVG3l

Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

The Visionary

Silent is the house: all are laid asleep:
One alone looks out o’er the snow-wreaths deep,
Watching every cloud, dreading every breeze
That whirls the wildering drift, and bends the groaning trees.

Cheerful is the hearth, soft the matted floor;
Not one shivering gust creeps through pane or door;
The little lamp burns straight, its rays shoot strong and far:
I trim it well, to be the wanderer’s guiding-star.

Frown, my haughty sire! chide, my angry dame!
Set your slaves to spy; threaten me with shame:
But neither sire nor dame nor prying serf shall know,
What angel nightly tracks that waste of frozen snow.

What I love shall come like visitant of air,
Safe in secret power from lurking human snare;
What loves me, no word of mine shall e’er betray,
Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.

Burn, then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear—
Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air:
He for whom I wait, thus ever comes to me;
Strange Power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy.

Image: the Bronte Parsonage Museum  /Bronte+Museum+Former+Home+Famed+Bronte+Sisters/

John Keats, “In Drear-Nighted December”

Dark Winter Landscape P1000697_MS465_EagleLake_131222_v1_resize.JPG

John Keats (1795-1821)

In Drear-Nighted December

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne’er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne’er remember
Apollo’s summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would ’twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

Image: Dark Winter Landscape P1000697_MS465_EagleLake_131222_v1_resize.JPG

 

For a Winter’s Day” Emerson’s “The Snow-Storm”

For a Winter’s Day” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Snow-Storm”

February 16, 2017

winter-country-snowstorm-horse-farm-scenic-scene-leading-road-to-midst-snow-storm-63786440

Fitting for this time of year as the Northeast and the Northwest U.S. are being pounded by snow sometimes measured in feet, not inches, is this classic winter poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Sage of Concord.

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.

 

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 structures, stone by stone,

Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,

The frolic architecture of the snow.

One of Emerson’s early commentators, George Edward Woodbury, wrote in 1907 that “Imagination with Emerson usually is set in motion by some psychological thought or by the presence of something elemental in the scene. His mind expands with the greatness of what is before him, and reaches a loftier height even when he is still in the regions of description, as . . . ‘The Snow-Storm,’ equally admirable as a picture of human home and of the wild grandeur of nature.”

vintage-emerson-home-images

So here comes the snowstorm in the first stanza compared by Emerson as a royal procession coming into town announced by heralds. The snow comes in and completely dominates the landscape. It “veils the farm house.” The sled carrying the royal personages stops. The couriers’ feet can go no further. That’s the outside scene. Inside, all the housemates of the farmstead sit warming themselves around the fire.

Emerson follows this cozy scene by describing the aftermath of the storm, and he does so as a commentary on the essence of artistic creation compared to nature’s creation. While the artist toils over his statuary columns of the finest marble—Parian marble—nature comes through and creates art far superior to that of the human hands: “Come see the north wind’s masonry.” Nature creates “wild work,” “fanciful, savage.” Nature creates organically—“nought cares he/ for number and proportion.” Humanity may create with just and true proportion works that last. “Astonished art,” though, “mocks” or imitates humanity’s lasting monuments with its—notice the oxymoron—“frolic architecture” of the snowstorm.

Stay inside folks. Keep warm. And follow The Literary Life blog.

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