John Greenleaf Whittier

Here you will find the Long Poem Snowbound, a Winter Idyl of poet John Greenleaf Whittier

Snowbound, a Winter Idyl

To the Memory of the Household It Describes

This Poem is Dedicated by the Author

"As the Spirit 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. 

The sun that brief December day 
Rose cheerless over hills of gray, 
And, darkly circled, gave at noon 
A sadder light than waning moon. 
Slow tracing down the thickening sky 
Its mute and ominous prophecy, 
A portent seeming less than threat, 
It sank from sight before it set. 
A chill no coat, however stout, 
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out, 
A hard, dull bitterness of cold, 
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race 
Of life-blood in the sharpened face, 
The coming of the snow-storm told. 
The wind blew east; we heard the roar 
Of Ocean on his wintry shore, 
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there 
Beat with low rhythm our inland air. 
Meanwhile we did our nightly chores, 
Brought in the wood from out the doors, 
Littered the stalls, and from the mows 
Raked down the herd's-grass for the cows; 
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn; 
And, sharply clashing horn on horn, 
Impatient down the stanchion rows 
The cattle shake their walnut bows; 
While, peering from his early perch 
Upon the scaffold's pole of birch, 
The cock his crested helmet bent 
And down his querulous challenge sent. 

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. 
The old familiar sights of ours 
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers 
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood, 
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood; 
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed, 
A fenceless drift what once was road; 
The bridle-post an old man sat 
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat; 
The well-curb had a Chinese roof; 
And even the long sweep, high aloof, 
In its slant spendor, seemed to tell 
Of Pisa's leaning miracle. 

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

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

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