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.