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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Analysed and Read by Pat Forster

                                   Out of the bosom of the air
                                   Out of the cloud folds of her garment shaken
                                   Over the woodlands brown and bare
                                   Over the harvest fields forsaken
                                   Silent and soft and slow
                                   Descends the snow.

                                   Even as our cloudy fancies take
                                   Suddenly in some divine expression
                                   Even as the troubled heart doth make
                                   In the white countenance confession
                                   The troubled sky reveals
                                   The grief it feels

                                   This is a poem of the air
                                   Slowly in silent syllables recorded
                                   This is the secret of despair
                                   Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded
                                   Now whispered and revealed
                                   To wood and field.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882, was the foremost American poet of his day. A contemporary of Tennyson, he stayed with him on the Isle of Wight during one of his many visits to Europe. Queen Victoria, who was an admirer of his poetry, invited him to tea. His mastery of Latin, Greek and the main European languages meant that his travels in Europe informed both his prose and poetry. In Rome he saw Liszt who set to music the introduction to The Golden Legend (1881).

Longfellow was probably best known in Britain as he author of such narrative poems as The Song of Hiawatha, which sold 50,000 copies; Evangeline and The Ride of Paul Revere (which is a section of a longer poem, Tales of a Wayside Inn). A marble image of Longfellow is to be found in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Snowflakes conveys the experience of loss and bereavement, both of which Longfellow experienced. His first wife, who died in childbirth, informed the poem Hyperion.He suffered facial burns when he tried to rescue his second wife who died in a fire following this he grew a beard to conceal his scars.

In the poem Snowflakes the use of long and short syllabic words slows down the pace to give the mood of the poem an air of sadness. The rhyme scheme draws us through the whole experience of bereavement with the use of feminine and male rhyming words lengthening and shortening end rhythm.

The first stanza grasps the unexpectness of death, overbearing in its effect. In the second stanza dealing with denial, the guilt is conveyed, whilst in the third stanza the poet allows that death has occurred and can now be expressed. I found the pace and rhythm of this poem deeply evocative of loss and bereavement.

Snowflakes - Read by Pat Forster
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