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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl


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

"As the Spirits of Darkness be stronger in the dark, so Good Spirits, which be Angels of Light, are augmented not only by the Divine light of the Sun, but also by our common Wood Fire: and as the Celestial Fire drives away dark spirits, so also this our Fire of Wood doth the same." -- Cor. Agrippa, Occult Philosophy, Book I.ch. v.

"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."
        EMERSON, The Snow Storm.

              1The sun that brief December day
              2Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
              3And, darkly circled, gave at noon
              4A sadder light than waning moon.
              5Slow tracing down the thickening sky
              6Its mute and ominous prophecy,
              7A portent seeming less than threat,
              8It sank from sight before it set.
              9A chill no coat, however stout,
            10Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
            11A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
            12That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
            13Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
            14The coming of the snow-storm told.
            15The wind blew east; we heard the roar
            16Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
            17And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
            18Beat with low rhythm our inland air.

            19Meanwhile we did our nightly chores, --
            20Brought in the wood from out of doors,
            21Littered the stalls, and from the mows
            22Raked down the herd's-grass for the cows;
            23Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
            24And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
            25Impatient down the stanchion rows
            26The cattle shake their walnut bows;
            27While, peering from his early perch
            28Upon the scaffold's pole of birch,
            29The cock his crested helmet bent
            30And down his querulous challenge sent.

            31Unwarmed by any sunset light
            32The gray day darkened into night,
            33A night made hoary with the swarm
            34And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
            35As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
            36Crossed and recrossed the wingëd snow:
            37And ere the early bedtime came
            38The white drift piled the window-frame,
            39And through the glass the clothes-line posts
            40Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.

            41So all night long the storm roared on:
            42The morning broke without a sun;
            43In tiny spherule traced with lines
            44Of Nature's geometric signs,
            45In starry flake, and pellicle,
            46All day the hoary meteor fell;
            47And, when the second morning shone,
            48We looked upon a world unknown,
            49On nothing we could call our own.
            50Around the glistening wonder bent
            51The blue walls of the firmament,
            52No cloud above, no earth below, --
            53A universe of sky and snow!
            54The old familiar sights of ours
            55Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
            56Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
            57Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
            58A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
            59A fenceless drift what once was road;
            60The bridle-post an old man sat
            61With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
            62The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
            63And even the long sweep, high aloof,
            64In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
            65Of Pisa's leaning miracle.

            66A prompt, decisive man, no breath
            67Our father wasted: "Boys, a path!"
            68Well pleased, (for when did farmer boy
            69Count such a summons less than joy?)
            70Our buskins on our feet we drew;
            71With mittened hands, and caps drawn low,
            72To guard our necks and ears from snow,
            73We cut the solid whiteness through.
            74And, where the drift was deepest, made
            75A tunnel walled and overlaid
            76With dazzling crystal: we had read
            77Of rare Aladdin's wondrous cave,
            78And to our own his name we gave,
            79With many a wish the luck were ours
            80To test his lamp's supernal powers.
            81We reached the barn with merry din,
            82And roused the prisoned brutes within.
            83The old horse thrust his long head out,
            84And grave with wonder gazed about;
            85The cock his lusty greeting said,
            86And forth his speckled harem led;
            87The oxen lashed their tails, and hooked,
            88And mild reproach of hunger looked;
            89The hornëd patriarch of the sheep,
            90Like Egypt's Amun roused from sleep,
            91Shook his sage head with gesture mute,
            92And emphasized with stamp of foot.

            93All day the gusty north-wind bore
            94The loosening drift its breath before;
            95Low circling round its southern zone,
            96The sun through dazzling snow-mist shone.
            97No church-bell lent its Christian tone
            98To the savage air, no social smoke
            99Curled over woods of snow-hung oak.
          100A solitude made more intense
          101By dreary-voicëd elements,
          102The shrieking of the mindless wind,
          103The moaning tree-boughs swaying blind,
          104And on the glass the unmeaning beat
          105Of ghostly finger-tips of sleet.
          106Beyond the circle of our hearth
          107No welcome sound of toil or mirth
          108Unbound the spell, and testified
          109Of human life and thought outside.
          110We minded that the sharpest ear
          111The buried brooklet could not hear,
          112The music of whose liquid lip
          113Had been to us companionship,
          114And, in our lonely life, had grown
          115To have an almost human tone.

          116As night drew on, and, from the crest
          117Of wooded knolls that ridged the west,
          118The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank
          119From sight beneath the smothering bank,
          120We piled, with care, our nightly stack
          121Of wood against the chimney-back, --
          122The oaken log, green, huge, and thick,
          123And on its top the stout back-stick;
          124The knotty forestick laid apart,
          125And filled between with curious art
          126The ragged brush; then, hovering near,
          127We watched the first red blaze appear,
          128Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam
          129On whitewashed wall and sagging beam,
          130Until the old, rude-furnished room
          131Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom;
          132While radiant with a mimic flame
          133Outside the sparkling drift became,
          134And through the bare-boughed lilac-tree
          135Our own warm hearth seemed blazing free.
          136The crane and pendent trammels showed,
          137The Turks' heads on the andirons glowed;
          138While childish fancy, prompt to tell
          139The meaning of the miracle,
          140Whispered the old rhyme: "Under the tree,
          141When fire outdoors burns merrily,
          142There the witches are making tea."

          143The moon above the eastern wood
          144Shone at its full; the hill-range stood
          145Transfigured in the silver flood,
          146Its blown snows flashing cold and keen,
          147Dead white, save where some sharp ravine
          148Took shadow, or the sombre green
          149Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black
          150Against the whiteness at their back.
          151For such a world and such a night
          152Most fitting that unwarming light,
          153Which only seemed where'er it fell
          154To make the coldness visible.

          155Shut in from all the world without,
          156We sat the clean-winged hearth about,
          157Content to let the north-wind roar
          158In baffled rage at pane and door,
          159While the red logs before us beat
          160The frost-line back with tropic heat;
          161And ever, when a louder blast
          162Shook beam and rafter as it passed,
          163The merrier up its roaring draught
          164The great throat of the chimney laughed;
          165The house-dog on his paws outspread
          166Laid to the fire his drowsy head,
          167The cat's dark silhouette on the wall
          168A couchant tiger's seemed to fall;
          169And, for the winter fireside meet,
          170Between the andirons' straddling feet,
          171The mug of cider simmered slow,
          172The apples sputtered in a row,
          173And, close at hand, the basket stood
          174With nuts from brown October's wood.

          175What matter how the night behaved?
          176What matter how the north-wind raved?
          177Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
          178Could quench our hearth-fire's ruddy glow.
          179O Time and Change! -- with hair as gray
          180As was my sire's that winter day,
          181How strange it seems, with so much gone
          182Of life and love, to still live on!
          183Ah, brother! only I and thou
          184Are left of all that circle now, --
          185The dear home faces whereupon
          186That fitful firelight paled and shone.
          187Henceforward, listen as we will,
          188The voices of that hearth are still;
          189Look where we may, the wide earth o'er,
          190Those lighted faces smile no more.
          191We tread the paths their feet have worn,
          192    We sit beneath their orchard trees,
          193    We hear, like them, the hum of bees
          194And rustle of the bladed corn;
          195We turn the pages that they read,
          196    Their written words we linger o'er,
          197But in the sun they cast no shade,
          198No voice is heard, no sign is made,
          199    No step is on the conscious floor!
          200Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust,
          201(Since He who knows our need is just,)
          202That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.
          203Alas for him who never sees
          204The stars shine through his cypress-trees!
          205Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
          206Nor looks to see the breaking day
          207Across the mournful marbles play!
          208Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
          209    The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
          210That Life is ever lord of Death,
          211    And Love can never lose its own!
          212We sped the time with stories old,
          213Wrought puzzles out, and riddles told,
          214Or stammered from our school-book lore
          215"The Chief of Gambia's golden shore."
          216How often since, when all the land
          217Was clay in Slavery's shaping hand,
          218As if a far-blown trumpet stirred
          219The languorous sin-sick air, I heard:
          220"Does not the voice of reason cry,
          221    Claim the first right which Nature gave,
          222From the red scourge of bondage to fly,
          223    Nor deign to live a burdened slave!"
          224Our father rode again his ride
          225On Memphremagog's wooded side;
          226Sat down again to moose and samp
          227In trapper's hut and Indian camp;
          228Lived o'er the old idyllic ease
          229Beneath St. François' hemlock-trees;
          230Again for him the moonlight shone
          231On Norman cap and bodiced zone;
          232Again he heard the violin play
          233Which led the village dance away.
          234And mingled in its merry whirl
          235The grandam and the laughing girl.
          236Or, nearer home, our steps he led
          237Where Salisbury's level marshes spread
          238    Mile-wide as flies the laden bee;
          239Where merry mowers, hale and strong,
          240Swept, scythe on scythe, their swaths along
          241    The low green prairies of the sea.
          242We shared the fishing off Boar's Head,
          243    And round the rocky Isles of Shoals
          244    The hake-broil on the drift-wood coals;
          245The chowder on the sand-beach made,
          246Dipped by the hungry, steaming hot,
          247With spoons of clam-shell from the pot.
          248We heard the tales of witchcraft old,
          249And dream and sign and marvel told
          250To sleepy listeners as they lay
          251Stretched idly on the salted hay,
          252Adrift along the winding shores,
          253When favoring breezes deigned to blow
          254The square sail of the gundelow
          255And idle lay the useless oars.

          256Our mother, while she turned her wheel
          257Or run the new-knit stocking-heel,
          258Told how the Indian hordes came down
          259At midnight on Concheco town,
          260And how her own great-uncle bore
          261His cruel scalp-mark to fourscore.
          262Recalling, in her fitting phrase,
          263    So rich and picturesque and free
          264    (The common unrhymed poetry
          265Of simple life and country ways,)
          266The story of her early days, --
          267She made us welcome to her home;
          268Old hearths grew wide to give us room;
          269We stole with her a frightened look
          270At the gray wizard's conjuring-book,
          271The fame whereof went far and wide
          272Through all the simple country side;
          273We heard the hawks at twilight play,
          274The boat-horn on Piscataqua,
          275The loon's weird laughter far away;
          276We fished her little trout-brook, knew
          277What flowers in wood and meadow grew,
          278What sunny hillsides autumn-brown
          279She climbed to shake the ripe nuts down,
          280Saw where in sheltered cove and bay,
          281The ducks' black squadron anchored lay,
          282And heard the wild-geese calling loud
          283Beneath the gray November cloud.

          284Then, haply, with a look more grave,
          285And soberer tone, some tale she gave
          286From painful Sewel's ancient tome,
          287Beloved in every Quaker home,
          288Of faith fire-winged by martyrdom,
          289Or Chalkley's Journal, old and quaint, --
          290Gentlest of skippers, rare sea-saint! --
          291Who, when the dreary calms prevailed,
          292And water-butt and bread-cask failed,
          293And cruel, hungry eyes pursued
          294His portly presence mad for food,
          295With dark hints muttered under breath
          296Of casting lots for life or death,
          297Offered, if Heaven withheld supplies,
          298To be himself the sacrifice.
          299Then, suddenly, as if to save
          300The good man from his living grave,
          301A ripple on the water grew,
          302A school of porpoise flashed in view.
          303"Take, eat," he said, "and be content;
          304These fishes in my stead are sent
          305By Him who gave the tangled ram
          306To spare the child of Abraham."

          307Our uncle, innocent of books,
          308Was rich in lore of fields and brooks,
          309The ancient teachers never dumb
          310Of Nature's unhoused lyceum.
          311In moons and tides and weather wise,
          312He read the clouds as prophecies,
          313And foul or fair could well divine,
          314By many an occult hint and sign,
          315Holding the cunning-warded keys
          316To all the woodcraft mysteries;
          317Himself to Nature's heart so near
          318That all her voices in his ear
          319Of beast or bird had meanings clear,
          320Like Apollonius of old,
          321Who knew the tales the sparrows told,
          322Or Hermes, who interpreted
          323What the sage cranes of Nilus said;
          324A simple, guileless, childlike man,
          325Content to live where life began;
          326Strong only on his native grounds,
          327The little world of sights and sounds
          328Whose girdle was the parish bounds,
          329Whereof his fondly partial pride
          330The common features magnified,
          331As Surrey hills to mountains grew
          332In White of Selborne's loving view, --
          333He told how teal and loon he shot,
          334And how the eagle's eggs he got,
          335The feats on pond and river done,
          336The prodigies of rod and gun;
          337Till, warming with the tales he told,
          338Forgotten was the outside cold,
          339The bitter wind unheeded blew,
          340From ripening corn the pigeons flew,
          341The partridge drummed i' the wood, the mink
          342Went fishing down the river-brink.
          343In fields with bean or clover gray,
          344The woodchuck, like a hermit gray,
          345    Peered from the doorway of his cell;
          346The muskrat plied the mason's trade,
          347And tier by tier his mud-walls laid;
          348And from the shagbark overhead
          349    The grizzled squirrel dropped his shell.

          350Next, the dear aunt, whose smile of cheer
          351And voice in dreams I see and hear, --
          352The sweetest woman ever Fate
          353Perverse denied a household mate,
          354Who, lonely, homeless, not the less
          355Found peace in love's unselfishness,
          356And welcome wheresoe'er she went,
          357A calm and gracious element,
          358Whose presence seemed the sweet income
          359And womanly atmosphere of home, --
          360Called up her girlhood memories,
          361The huskings and the apple-bees,
          362The sleigh-rides and the summer sails,
          363Weaving through all the poor details
          364And homespun warp of circumstance
          365A golden woof-thread of romance.
          366For well she kept her genial mood
          367And simple faith of maidenhood;
          368Before her still a cloud-land lay,
          369The mirage loomed across her way;
          370The morning dew, that dries so soon
          371With others, glistened at her noon;
          372Through years of toil and soil and care,
          373From glossy tress to thin gray hair,
          374All unprofaned she held apart
          375The virgin fancies of the heart.
          376Be shame to him of woman born
          377Who hath for such but thought of scorn.

          378There, too, our elder sister plied
          379Her evening task the stand beside;
          380A full, rich nature, free to trust,
          381Truthful and almost sternly just,
          382Impulsive, earnest, prompt to act,
          383And make her generous thought a fact,
          384Keeping with many a light disguise
          385The secret of self-sacrifice.
          386O heart sore-tried! thou hast the best
          387That Heaven itself could give thee, -- rest,
          388Rest from all bitter thoughts and things!
          389    How many a poor one's blessing went
          390    With thee beneath the low green tent
          391Whose curtain never outward swings!

          392As one who held herself a part
          393Of all she saw, and let her heart
          394    Against the household bosom lean,
          395Upon the motley-braided mat
          396Our youngest and our dearest sat,
          397Lifting her large, sweet, asking eyes,
          398  Now bathed in the unfading green
          399And holy peace of Paradise.
          400Oh, looking from some heavenly hill,
          401    Or from the shade of saintly palms,
          402    Or silver reach of river calms,
          403Do those large eyes behold me still?
          404With me one little year ago: --
          405The chill weight of the winter snow
          406    For months upon her grave has lain;
          407And now, when summer south-winds blow
          408    And brier and harebell bloom again,
          409I tread the pleasant paths we trod,
          410I see the violet-sprinkled sod
          411Whereon she leaned, too frail and weak
          412The hillside flowers she loved to seek,
          413Yet following me where'er I went
          414With dark eyes full of love's content.
          415The birds are glad; the brier-rose fills
          416The air with sweetness; all the hills
          417Stretch green to June's unclouded sky;
          418But still I wait with ear and eye
          419For something gone which should be nigh,
          420A loss in all familiar things,
          421In flower that blooms, and bird that sings.
          422And yet, dear heart! remembering thee,
          423    Am I not richer than of old?
          424Safe in thy immortality,
          425    What change can reach the wealth I hold?
          426    What chance can mar the pearl and gold
          427Thy love hath left in trust with me?
          428And while in life's late afternoon,
          429    Where cool and long the shadows grow,
          430I walk to meet the night that soon
          431    Shall shape and shadow overflow,
          432I cannot feel that thou art far,
          433Since near at need the angels are;
          434And when the sunset gates unbar,
          435    Shall I not see thee waiting stand,
          436And, white against the evening star,
          437    The welcome of thy beckoning hand?

          438Brisk wielder of the birch and rule,
          439The master of the district school
          440Held at the fire his favored place,
          441Its warm glow lit a laughing face
          442Fresh-hued and fair, where scarce appeared
          443The uncertain prophecy of beard.
          444He teased the mitten-blinded cat,
          445Played cross-pins on my uncle's hat,
          446Sang songs, and told us what befalls
          447In classic Dartmouth's college halls.
          448Born the wild Northern hills among,
          449From whence his yeoman father wrung
          450By patient toil subsistence scant,
          451Not competence and yet not want,
          452He early gained the power to pay
          453His cheerful, self-reliant way;
          454Could doff at ease his scholar's gown
          455To peddle wares from town to town;
          456Or through the long vacation's reach
          457In lonely lowland districts teach,
          458Where all the droll experience found
          459At stranger hearths in boarding round,
          460The moonlit skater's keen delight,
          461The sleigh-drive through the frosty night,
          462The rustic party, with its rough
          463Accompaniment of blind-man's-buff,
          464And whirling-plate, and forfeits paid,
          465His winter task a pastime made.
          466Happy the snow-locked homes wherein
          467He tuned his merry violin,
          468Or played the athlete in the barn,
          469Or held the good dame's winding-yarn,
          470Or mirth-provoking versions told
          471Of classic legends rare and old,
          472Wherein the scenes of Greece and Rome
          473Had all the commonplace of home,
          474And little seemed at best the odds
          475'Twixt Yankee pedlers and old gods;
          476Where Pindus-born Arachthus took
          477The guise of any grist-mill brook,
          478And dread Olympus at his will
          479Became a huckleberry hill.

          480A careless boy that night he seemed;
          481    But at his desk he had the look
          482And air of one who wisely schemed,
          483    And hostage from the future took
          484    In trainëd thought and lore of book.
          485Large-brained, clear-eyed, of such as he
          486Shall Freedom's young apostles be,
          487Who, following in War's bloody trail,
          488Shall every lingering wrong assail;
          489All chains from limb and spirit strike,
          490Uplift the black and white alike;
          491Scatter before their swift advance
          492The darkness and the ignorance,
          493The pride, the lust, the squalid sloth,
          494Which nurtured Treason's monstrous growth,
          495Made murder pastime, and the hell
          496Of prison-torture possible;
          497The cruel lie of caste refute,
          498Old forms remould, and substitute
          499For Slavery's lash the freeman's will,
          500For blind routine, wise-handed skill;
          501A school-house plant on every hill,
          502Stretching in radiate nerve-lines thence
          503The quick wires of intelligence;
          504Till North and South together brought
          505Shall own the same electric thought,
          506In peace a common flag salute,
          507And, side by side in labor's free
          508And unresentful rivalry,
          509Harvest the fields wherein they fought.

          510Another guest that winter night
          511Flashed back from lustrous eyes the light.
          512Unmarked by time, and yet not young,
          513The honeyed music of her tongue
          514And words of meekness scarcely told
          515A nature passionate and bold,
          516Strong, self-concentred, spurning guide,
          517Its milder features dwarfed beside
          518Her unbent will's majestic pride.
          519She sat among us, at the best,
          520A not unfeared, half-welcome guest,
          521Rebuking with her cultured phrase
          522Our homeliness of words and ways.
          523A certain pard-like, treacherous grace
          524Swayed the lithe limbs and drooped the lash,
          525Lent the white teeth their dazzling flash;
          526And under low brows, black with night,
          527Rayed out at times a dangerous light;
          528The sharp heat-lightnings of her face
          529Presaging ill to him whom Fate
          530Condemned to share her love or hate.
          531A woman tropical, intense
          532In thought and act, in soul and sense,
          533She blended in a like degree
          534The vixen and the devotee,
          535Revealing with each freak or feint
          536    The temper of Petruchio's Kate,
          537The raptures of Siena's saint.
          538Her tapering hand and rounded wrist
          539Had facile power to form a fist;
          540The warm, dark languish of her eyes
          541Was never safe from wrath's surprise.
          542Brows saintly calm and lips devout
          543Knew every change of scowl and pout;
          544And the sweet voice had notes more high
          545And shrill for social battle-cry.

          546Since then what old cathedral town
          547Has missed her pilgrim staff and gown,
          548What convent-gate has held its lock
          549Against the challenge of her knock!
          550Through Smyrna's plague-hushed thoroughfares,
          551Up sea-set Malta's rocky stairs,
          552Gray olive slopes of hills that hem
          553Thy tombs and shrines, Jerusalem,
          554Or startling on her desert throne
          555The crazy Queen of Lebanon
          556With claims fantastic as her own,
          557Her tireless feet have held their way;
          558And still, unrestful, bowed, and gray,
          559She watches under Eastern skies,
          560    With hope each day renewed and fresh,
          561    The Lord's quick coming in the flesh,
          562Whereof she dreams and prophesies!

          563Where'er her troubled path may be,
          564    The Lord's sweet pity with her go!
          565The outward wayward life we see,
          566    The hidden springs we may not know.
          567Nor is it given us to discern
          568    What threads the fatal sisters spun,
          569    Through what ancestral years has run
          570The sorrow with the woman born,
          571What forged her cruel chain of moods,
          572What set her feet in solitudes,
          573And held the love within her mute,
          574What mingled madness in the blood,
          575    A life-long discord and annoy,
          576    Water of tears with oil of joy,
          577And hid within the folded bud
          578    Perversities of flower and fruit.
          579It is not ours to separate
          580The tangled skein of will and fate,
          581To show what metes and bounds should stand
          582Upon the soul's debatable land,
          583And between choice and Providence
          584Divide the circle of events;
          585But He who knows our frame is just,
          586Merciful and compassionate,
          587And full of sweet assurances
          588And hope for all the language is,
          589That He remembereth we are dust!

          590At last the great logs, crumbling low,
          591Sent out a dull and duller glow,
          592The bull's-eye watch that hung in view,
          593Ticking its weary circuit through,
          594Pointed with mutely warning sign
          595Its black hand to the hour of nine.
          596That sign the pleasant circle broke:
          597My uncle ceased his pipe to smoke,
          598Knocked from its bowl the refuse gray,
          599And laid it tenderly away;
          600Then roused himself to safely cover
          601The dull red brands with ashes over.
          602And while, with care, our mother laid
          603The work aside, her steps she stayed
          604One moment, seeking to express
          605Her grateful sense of happiness
          606For food and shelter, warmth and health,
          607And love's contentment more than wealth,
          608With simple wishes (not the weak,
          609Vain prayers which no fulfilment seek,
          610But such as warm the generous heart,
          611O'er-prompt to do with Heaven its part)
          612That none might lack, that bitter night,
          613For bread and clothing, warmth and light.

          614Within our beds awhile we heard
          615The wind that round the gables roared,
          616With now and then a ruder shock,
          617Which made our very bedsteads rock.
          618We heard the loosened clapboards tost,
          619The board-nails snapping in the frost;
          620And on us, through the unplastered wall,
          621Felt the light sifted snow-flakes fall.
          622But sleep stole on, as sleep will do
          623When hearts are light and life is new;
          624Faint and more faint the murmurs grew,
          625Till in the summer-land of dreams
          626They softened to the sound of streams,
          627Low stir of leaves, and dip of oars,
          628And lapsing waves on quiet shores.

          629Next morn we wakened with the shout
          630Of merry voices high and clear;
          631And saw the teamsters drawing near
          632To break the drifted highways out.
          633Down the long hillside treading slow
          634We saw the half-buried oxen go,
          635Shaking the snow from heads uptost,
          636Their straining nostrils white with frost.
          637Before our door the straggling train
          638Drew up, an added team to gain.
          639The elders threshed their hands a-cold,
          640    Passed, with the cider-mug, their jokes
          641    From lip to lip; the younger folks
          642Down the loose snow-banks, wrestling, rolled,
          643Then toiled again the cavalcade
          644    O'er windy hill, through clogged ravine,
          645    And woodland paths that wound between
          646Low drooping pine-boughs winter-weighed.
          647From every barn a team afoot,
          648At every house a new recruit,
          649Where, drawn by Nature's subtlest law,
          650Haply the watchful young men saw
          651Sweet doorway pictures of the curls
          652And curious eyes of merry girls,
          653Lifting their hands in mock defence
          654Against the snow-ball's compliments,
          655And reading in each missive tost
          656The charm with Eden never lost.

          657We heard once more the sleigh-bells' sound;
          658    And, following where the teamsters led,
          659The wise old Doctor went his round,
          660Just pausing at our door to say,
          661In the brief autocratic way
          662Of one who, prompt at Duty's call,
          663Was free to urge her claim on all,
          664    That some poor neighbor sick abed
          665At night our mother's aid would need.
          666For, one in generous thought and deed,
          667    What mattered in the sufferer's sight
          668    The Quaker matron's inward light,
          669The Doctor's mail of Calvin's creed?
          670All hearts confess the saints elect
          671    Who, twain in faith, in love agree,
          672And melt not in an acid sect
          673    The Christian pearl of charity!

          674So days went on: a week had passed
          675Since the great world was heard from last.
          676The Almanac we studied o'er,
          677Read and reread our little store
          678Of books and pamphlets, scarce a score;
          679One harmless novel, mostly hid
          680From younger eyes, a book forbid,
          681And poetry, (or good or bad,
          682A single book was all we had,)
          683Where Ellwood's meek, drab-skirted Muse,
          684    A stranger to the heathen Nine,
          685    Sang, with a somewhat nasal whine,
          686The wars of David and the Jews.
          687At last the floundering carrier bore
          688The village paper to our door.
          689Lo! broadening outward as we read,
          690To warmer zones the horizon spread
          691In panoramic length unrolled
          692We saw the marvels that it told.
          693Before us passed the painted Creeks,
          694    And daft McGregor on his raids
          695    In Costa Rica's everglades.
          696And up Taygetos winding slow
          697Rode Ypsilanti's Mainote Greeks,
          698A Turk's head at each saddle-bow!
          699Welcome to us its week-old news,
          700Its corner for the rustic Muse,
          701    Its monthly gauge of snow and rain,
          702Its record, mingling in a breath
          703The wedding bell and dirge of death:
          704Jest, anecdote, and love-lorn tale,
          705The latest culprit sent to jail;
          706Its hue and cry of stolen and lost,
          707Its vendue sales and goods at cost,
          708    And traffic calling loud for gain.
          709We felt the stir of hall and street,
          710The pulse of life that round us beat;
          711The chill embargo of the snow
          712Was melted in the genial glow;
          713Wide swung again our ice-locked door,
          714And all the world was ours once more!

          715Clasp, Angel of the backword look
          716    And folded wings of ashen gray
          717    And voice of echoes far away,
          718The brazen covers of thy book;
          719The weird palimpsest old and vast,
          720Wherein thou hid'st the spectral past;
          721Where, closely mingling, pale and glow
          722The characters of joy and woe;
          723The monographs of outlived years,
          724Or smile-illumed or dim with tears,
          725    Green hills of life that slope to death,
          726And haunts of home, whose vistaed trees
          727Shade off to mournful cypresses
          728    With the white amaranths underneath.
          729Even while I look, I can but heed
          730    The restless sands' incessant fall,
          731Importunate hours that hours succeed,
          732Each clamorous with its own sharp need,
          733    And duty keeping pace with all.
          734Shut down and clasp with heavy lids;
          735I hear again the voice that bids
          736The dreamer leave his dream midway
          737For larger hopes and graver fears:
          738Life greatens in these later years,
          739The century's aloe flowers to-day!

          740Yet, haply, in some lull of life,
          741Some Truce of God which breaks its strife,
          742The worldling's eyes shall gather dew,
          743    Dreaming in throngful city ways
          744Of winter joys his boyhood knew;
          745And dear and early friends -- the few
          746Who yet remain -- shall pause to view
          747    These Flemish pictures of old days;
          748Sit with me by the homestead hearth,
          749And stretch the hands of memory forth
          750    To warm them at the wood-fire's blaze!
          751And thanks untraced to lips unknown
          752Shall greet me like the odors blown
          753From unseen meadows newly mown,
          754Or lilies floating in some pond,
          755Wood-fringed, the wayside gaze beyond;
          756The traveller owns the grateful sense
          757Of sweetness near, he knows not whence,
          758And, pausing, takes with forehead bare
          759The benediction of the air.

Notes

1] "The inmates of the family at the Whittier homestead who are referred to in the poem were my father, mother, my brother and two sisters, and my uncle and aunt, both unmarried. In addition, there was the district school master, who boarded with us. The `not unfeared, half-welcome guest' was Harriet Livermore, daughter of Judge Livermore, of New Hampshire, a young woman of fine natural ability, enthusiastic, eccentric, with slight control over her violent temper, which sometimes made her religious profession doubtful. She was equally ready to exhort in school-house prayer-meetings and dance in a Washington ball-room, while her father was a member of congress. She early embraced the doctrine of the Second Advent, and felt it her duty to proclaim the Lord's speedy coming. With this message she crossed the Atlantic and spent the greater part of a long life in travelling over Europe and Asia. She lived some time with Lady Hester Stanhope, a woman as fantastic and mentally strained as herself, on the slope of Mt. Lebanon, but finally quarrelled with her in regard to two white horses with red marks on their backs which suggested the idea of saddles, on which her titled hostess expected to ride into Jerusalem with the Lord. A friend of mine found her, when quite an old woman, wandering in Syria with a tribe of Arabs, who with the Oriental notion that madness is inspiration, accepted her as their prophetess and leader. At the time referred to in Snow-Bound she was boarding at the Rocks Village about two miles from us.

In my boyhood, in our lonely farm-house, we had scanty sources of information; few books and only a small weekly newspaper. Our only annual was the Almanac. Under such circumstances story-telling was a necessary resource in the long winter evenings. My father when a young man had traversed the wilderness to Canada, and could tell us of his adventures with Indians and wild beasts, and of his sojourn in the French villages. My uncle was ready with his record of hunting and fishing and, it must be confessed, with stories which he at least half believed, of witchcraft and apparitions. My mother, who was born in the Indian-haunted region of Somersworth, New Hampshire, between Dover and Portsmouth, told us of the inroads of the savages, and the narrow escape of her ancestors. She described strange people who lived on the Piscataqua and Cocheco, among whom was Bantam the sorcerer. I have in my possession the wizard's "conjuring book," which he solemnly opened when consulted. It is a copy of Cornelius Agrippa's Magic printed in 1651, dedicated to Dr. Robert Child, who, like Michael Scott, hadlearned

`the art of glammorie
In Padua beyond the sea,'
and who is famous in the annals of Massachusetts, where he was at one time a resident, as the first man who dared petition the General Court for liberty of conscience. The full title of the book is Three Books of Occult Philosophy, by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Knight, Doctor of both Laws, Counsellor to Csar's Sacred Majesty and Judge of the Prerogative Court." [Whittier's note.]

25] stanchion rows: rows of stalls, each with a restraint loosely securing a cow's neck.

43] spherule: little sphere.

45] pellicle: thin film.

65] Pisa's leaning miracle: the 181-foot circular bell tower or campanile of the Cathedral of Pisa, Italy, which stands leaning more than a dozen feet off the perpendicular at the top.

70] buskins: high laced boots.

77] Aladdin's wondrous cave: this cavern holds a magic lamp which Aladdin, the son of a poor tailor in China, takes and uses to become wealthy and to marry the Sultan's daughter.

90] Amun: a god with the head of a ram.

136] trammels: pothooks attached to the iron arm or crane extending into a fireplace.

137] Turks' heads: ornamental knots (like turbans) on the andirons; or (less likely) round pans, with conical lids, for baking bread.

140-42] verses not located.

183] brother: "Matthew Franklin Whittier, born July 4, 1812, died January 7, 1883. In middle life, during his residence in Portland, he took a deep interest in the anti-slavery movement, and wrote a series of caustic letters under the signature Ethan Spike of Hornby." (Editor.)

215] "The African Chief was the title of a poem by Mrs. Sarah Wentworth Morton, wife of the Hon. Perez Morton, a former attorney-general of Massachusetts. Mrs. Morton's nom de plume was Philenia. The school book in which The African Chief was printed was Caleb Bingham's The American Preceptor, and the poem contained fifteen stanzas, of which the first four were as follows: --

See how the black ship cleaves the main
    High-bounding o'er the violet wave,
Remurmuring with the groans of pain,
    Deep freighted with the princely slave.

Did all the gods of Afric sleep,
    Forgetful of their guardian love,
When the white traitors of the deep
    Betrayed him in the palmy grove?

A chief of Gambia's golden shore,
    Whose arm the band of warriors led,
Perhaps the lord of boundless power,
    By whom the foodless poor were fed.

Does not the voice of reason cry,
    `Claim the first right which nature gave;
From the red scourge of bondage fly,
    Nor deign to live a burdened slave'?"

(Editor.)

225] Memphremagog: a lake in Quebec and Vermont.

226] samp: corn mush.

229] Lake Saint Francis, Quebec and Ontario.

231] Norman: perhaps French.
bodiced zone: belt for the bodice or the upperpart of a woman's dress?

237] Salisbury: Massachusetts town.

242] Boar's Head: Little Boar's Head, New Hampshire.

243] Nine islands off the Maine and New Hampshire coast.

244] hake: cod-like fish.

254] gundelow: gondola.

259] Concheco town: Dover, New Hampshire, on the Concheco River, attacked June 28, 1689.

270] wizard's conjuring book: Cornelius Agrippa's Magic.

274] Piscataqua: New Hampshire river.

275] loon: northern fish-eating bird with a haunting cry.

286] Sewel's ancient tome: The History, Rise, Increase and Progress of the ... Quakers by William Sewell (1654-1720).

289] Chalkley's Journal: an itinerant Quaker preacher.
Chalkley's own narrative of this incident, as given in his Journal, is as follows: `To stop their murmuring, I told them they should not need to cast lots, which was usual in such cases, which of us should die first, for I would freely offer up my life to do them good. One said, "God bless you! I will not eat any of you." Another said, "He would die before he would eat any of me," and so said several. I can truly say, on that occasion, at that time, my life was not dear to me, and that I was serious and ingenuous in my proposition: and as I was leaning over the side of the vessel, thoughtfully considering my proposal to the company, and looking in my mind to Him that made me, a very large dolphin came up towards the top or surface of the water, and looked me in the face; and I called the people to put a hook into the sea, and the fish readily took it and they caught him. He was longer than myself. I think he was about six feet long, and the largest that ever I saw. This plainly showed us that we ought not to distrust the providence of the Almighty. The people were quieted by this act of Providence, and murmured no more. We caught enough to eat plentifully of, till we got into the capes of Delaware.'"

305-06] God provided Abraham with a ram to sacrifice so that he need not kill his son Isaac, an Old Testament event prefiguring God's New Testament sacrifice of his only son Jesus on the cross (Genesis 22).

307] uncle: "For further account of Whittier's uncle Moses, the reader is referred to Whittier's Prose Works, volume I. p. 323." (Editor).

310] lyceum: teaching or lecturing place or gymnasium.

320] Apollonius of Tyana (3 B.C. - A.D. 97), a philosopher.

322] Hermes: Hermes Trismegistus, identified with Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom.

328] girdle: "belt," what circumscribes his world.

332] The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White (1720-1793).

333] teal: river duck.

344] woodchuck: groundhog.

346] muskrat: brown-furred aquatic rodent of NorthAmerica.

348] shagbark: hickory tree whose bark peels off in strips and which yields nuts.

361] huskings: neighborhood get-togethers for husking corn.
apple-bees: neighborhood get-togethers for picking or preparing apples.

378] our elder sister: "Mary Whittier, born September 3, 1806, married Jacob Caldwell of Haverhill, had two children, Lewis Henry and Mary Elizabeth, and died January 7, 1860." (Editor.)

396] our youngest and our dearest: "Elizabeth Hussey Whittier, born December 7, 1815, was to her brother John what Dorothy Wordsworth was to William. It was her brother's opinion that `had her health, sense of duty, and almost morbid dread of spiritual and intellectual egotism permitted, she might have taken a high place among lyrical singers.' .... She died September 3, 1864." (Editor.)

408] harebell: wood hyacinth, a blue-flowered plant.

439] master of the district school: "Until near the end of his life, Whittier was unable to recall the name of the schoolmaster who stood for this figure in Snow-Bound. At last he remembered his name as Haskell, and from this clue the person was traced. He was George Haskell from Waterford, Maine, a Dartmouth student, who studied medicine, and died in Vineland, New Jersey, in 1876." (Editor.)

445] cross-pins: push-pins, a game in which a player pushes his pin in an attempt to cross that belonging to another player.

447] Dartmouth's college: from a town in southeast Massachusetts.

476] Pindus: a mountain range in Greece.
Arachthus: not identified.

477] grist-mill: a mill that grinds grain.

510] Another guest: "In his introductory note, Whittier adds somewhat to his characterization of Harriet Livermore. At the timewhen Snow-Bound was written he did not know that she was living, or he might not have introduced her. She died in 1867." (Editor.)

536] Kate: in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

537] St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380).

550] Smyrna: Izmir, a port city in on the Aegean sea.

555] The Crazy queen of Lebanon: Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope (1776-1839) created a stronghold at Mount Lebanon and proclaimed a new Islamic-Christian faith. "An interesting account of Lady Hester Stanhope may be found in Kinglake's Eothen, chap. viii." (Editor.)

568] the fatal sisters: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the three sister goddesses of fate of the Greeks. All were spinners: the first controlled man's birth and wielded a distaff; the second spun his life's incidents; and the third cut the thread of his life at death.

580] skein: yarn or thread coiled on a reel.

592] bull's-eye watch: perhaps one covered by a lens with a bulge on one side.

683] Thomas Ellwood (1639-1713), the Quaker poet of Davideis (1712).

694] Sir Gregory McGregor, a Scot who supported the South American liberator Bolivar and made himself apotentate on the Mosquito coast of Central America.

696] Taygetos: Greece mountains.

697] Demetrius Ypsilanti (1793-1832), a Greek fighter against the Turks.

707] vendue: auction.

719] palimpsest: manuscript on which a text has been written over an erased text.

747] These Flemish pictures of old days: "In 1888 Whittier wrote the following lines on the fly-leaf of a copy of the first edition of Snow-Bound: --

Twenty years have taken flight
Since these pages saw the light.
    All home loves are gone,
But not all with sadness, still,
Do the eyes of memory fill
    As I gaze thereon.

Lone and weary life seemed when
First these pictures of the pen
    Grew upon my page;
But I still have loving friends
And the peace our Father sends
    Cheers the heart of age."

(Editor.)


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Cambridge edition, ed. H. E. S. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894): 398-406. PS 3250 E94 1894 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1866
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/27

Form note: couplets and quatrains


Other poems by John Greenleaf Whittier