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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - Snow-Bound with Whittier... and Bunnies


Confession: I was just looking online for a few fun, classic verses on snow to go with these silly pictures from last weekend, when I'd gotten snowed in in upstate South Carolina with my teacher-daughter Morgan (whose birthday happened to be last Saturday).

I ended up stumbling upon John Greenleaf Whittier's "Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl" (1866). If I ever read it in college, I forgot it. Is this one you remember?

Since I've been somewhat stuck in the mid-nineteenth century lately (hence my Industrial Revolution haiku and Bill Bryson book gift to Diane Mayr in the Winter Poem Swap a few weeks ago), I fell right into this long and layered Whittier poem.

Now, I was certainly rewarded with some wonderful snowy imagery just a few stanzas in:

...
Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingëd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts. ...



--but there is oh-so-much-more. The poem opens with a dedication:

"To the Memory of the Household It Describes
This Poem is Dedicated by the Author"


and excerpts from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy, Book I and Emerson's poem, "The Snow Storm."

And then there are 700-plus lines of Whittier's observations, reminiscences, abolitionist philosophy, character sketches of family members and associations, plus musings on religion (Quaker and otherwise), time, death, and hope for reunion in the afterlife. We even see "witches making tea" whispered from an old rhyme (and many allusions I didn't fully get but fully recognized as allusions).

Sounds overwhelming, but I found myself floating through it, meeting these endearing earth-bound folks from Whittier's memory, alive in their quirks and capacities through his words - though he is now long gone, too.

No wonder the Poetry Foundation has this vast collection of subjects listed under the poem: Family & Ancestors, Religion, Living, Youth, Nature, Home Life, Winter, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Weather. Click here to read the poem in its entirety, and be prepared to fetch a second cup of coffee or tea in the process! But if there's snow on the ground outside, what better way to spend the day than in some cozy corner reading poetry?

When you do come up for air again, drift like snow over to Reading to the Core, where the lovely Catherine has the Roundup, and a perfect-for-winter interview with my amazing bud, Irene Latham. (And if you need a break from all this substantive fare, be sure to catch Michelle's roundup of "nothing" poems this month at Today's Little Ditty!)
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