Yesterday, we had the first snowfall of the season. The warmer ground did not play willing host and the snow did not stick. This morning I see small gentle flakes again trying to cover the ground.
In honor of this first snowfall and because its timing coincides with my own personal reflections, I thought it appropriate to present a favorite poem of mine, James Russell Lowell’s “The First Snowfall.”
I loved the poem when I first learned a couple of the stanzas in fourth grade, but it wasn’t until I was required to memorize the whole poem in seventh grade that it officially became my favorite poem. I didn’t know it then, but I had found a poem that would one day give me great comfort.
Lowell wrote the poem in 1847 after the death of his eldest daughter, Blanche. Of the four children born to Lowell and his first wife, Maria, three would die at young ages. The surviving child, a girl, was named Mabel.
The First Snowfall
The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.
Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.
From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.
I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.
I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.
Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.
Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.
I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
The scar of our deep-plunged woe.
And again to the child I whispered,
“The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!”
Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.
Sullivan, Nancy, ed. The Treasury of American Poetry. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1978.
Lowell, James Russell. Wikipedia. Accessed November 16, 2008.