Home  »  An American Anthology, 1787–1900  »  222 From “Snow-Bound”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). An American Anthology, 1787–1900. 1900.

By John GreenleafWhittier

222 From “Snow-Bound”


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.

So all night long the storm roared on:

The morning broke without a sun;

In tiny spherule traced with lines

Of Nature’s geometric signs,

In starry flake, and pellicle,

All day the hoary meteor fell;

And, when the second morning shone,

We looked upon a world unknown,

On nothing we could call our own.

Around the glistening wonder bent

The blue walls of the firmament,

No cloud above, no earth below,—

A universe of sky and snow!

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 splendor, seemed to tell

Of Pisa’s loaning miracle.


SHUT in from all the world without,

We sat the clean-winged hearth about,

Content to let the north-wind roar

In baffled rage at pane and door,

While the red logs before us beat

The frost-line back with tropic heat;

And ever, when a louder blast

Shook beam and rafter as it passed,

The merrier up its roaring draught

The great throat of the chimney laughed;

The house-dog on his paws outspread

Laid to the fire his drowsy head,

The cat’s dark silhouette on the wall

A couchant tiger’s seemed to fall;

And, for the winter fireside meet,

Between the andirons’ straddling feet,

The mug of cider simmered slow,

The apples sputtered in a row,

And, close at hand, the basket stood

With nuts from brown October’s wood.

What matter how the night behaved?

What matter how the north-wind raved?

Blow high, blow low, not all its snow

Could quench our hearth-fire’s ruddy glow.

O Time and Change!—with hair as gray

As was my sire’s that winter day,

How strange it seems, with so much gone

Of life and love, to still live on!

Ah, brother! only I and thou

Are left of all that circle now,—

The dear home faces whereupon

That fitful firelight paled and shone.

Henceforward, listen as we will,

The voices of that hearth are still;

Look where we may, the wide earth o’er,

Those lighted faces smile no more.

We tread the paths their feet have worn,

We sit beneath their orchard-trees,

We hear, like them, the hum of bees

And rustle of the bladed corn;

We turn the pages that they read,

Their written words we linger o’er,

But in the sun they cast no shade,

No voice is heard, no sign is made,

No step is on the conscious floor!

Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust,

(Since He who knows our need is just,)

That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.

Alas for him who never sees

The stars shine through his cypress-trees!

Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,

Nor looks to see the breaking day

Across the mournful marbles play!

Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,

The truth to flesh and sense unknown,

That Life is ever lord of Death,

And Love can never lose its own!


Our mother, while she turned her wheel

Or run the new-knit stocking-heel,

Told how the Indian hordes came down

At midnight on Cocheco town,

And how her own great-uncle bore

His cruel scalp-mark to fourscore.

Recalling, in her fitting phrase,

So rich and picturesque and free,

(The common unrhymed poetry

Of simple life and country ways,)

The story of her early days,—

She made us welcome to her home;

Old hearths grew wide to give us room;

We stole with her a frightened look

At the gray wizard’s conjuring-book,

The fame whereof went far and wide

Through all the simple country-side;

We heard the hawks at twilight play,

The boat-horn on Piscataqua,

The loon’s weird laughter far away;

We fished her little trout-brook, knew

What flowers in wood and meadow grew,

What sunny hillsides autumn-brown

She climbed to shake the ripe nuts down,

Saw where in sheltered cove and bay

The ducks’ black squadron anchored lay,

And heard the wild geese calling loud

Beneath the gray November cloud.


AS one who held herself a part

Of all she saw, and let her heart

Against the household bosom lean,

Upon the motley-braided mat

Our youngest and our dearest sat,

Lifting her large, sweet, asking eyes,

Now bathed in the unfading green

And holy peace of Paradise.

Oh, looking from some heavenly hill,

Or from the shade of saintly palms,

Or silver reach of river calms,

Do those large eyes behold me still?

With me one little year ago:—

The chill weight of the winter snow

For months upon her grave has lain;

And now, when summer south-winds blow

And brier and harebell bloom again,

I tread the pleasant paths we trod,

I see the violet-sprinkled sod

Whereon she leaned, too frail and weak

The hillside flowers she loved to seek,

Yet following me where’er I went

With dark eyes full of love’s content.

The birds are glad; the brier-rose fills

The air with sweetness; all the hills

Stretch green to June’s unclouded sky;

But still I wait with ear and eye

For something gone which should be nigh,

A loss all familiar things,

In flower that blooms, and bird that sings.

And yet, dear heart! remembering thee,

Am I not richer than of old?

Safe in thy immortality,

What change can reach the wealth I hold?

What chance can mar the pearl and gold

Thy love hath left in trust with me?

And while in life’s late afternoon,

Where cool and long the shadows grow,

I walk to meet the night that soon

Shall shape and shadow overflow,

I cannot feel that thou art far,

Since near at need the angels are;

And when the sunset gates unbar,

Shall I not see thee waiting stand,

And, white against the evening star,

The welcome of thy beckoning hand?


ANOTHER guest that winter night

Flashed back from lustrous eyes the light.

Unmarked by time, and yet not young,

The honeyed music of her tongue

And words of meekness scarcely told

A nature passionate and bold,

Strong, self-concentred, spurning guide,

Its milder features dwarfed beside

Her unbent will’s majestic pride.

She sat among us, at the best,

A not unfeared, half-welcome guest,

Rebuking with her cultured phrase

Our homeliness of words and ways.

A certain pard-like, treacherous grace

Swayed the lithe limbs and dropped the lash,

Lent the white teeth their dazzling flash;

And under low brows, black with night,

Rayed out at times a dangerous light;

The sharp heat-lightnings of her face

Presaging ill to him whom Fate

Condemned to share her love or hate.

A woman tropical, intense

In thought and act, in soul and sense,

She blended in a like degree

The vixen and the devotee,

Revealing with each freak or feint

The temper of Petruchio’s Kate,

The raptures of Siena’s saint.

Her tapering hand and rounded wrist

Had facile power to form a fist;

The warm, dark languish of her eyes

Was never safe from wrath’s surprise.

Brows saintly calm and lips devout

Knew every change of scowl and pout;

And the sweet voice had notes more high

And shrill for social battle-cry.

Since then what old cathedral town

Has missed her pilgrim staff and gown,

What convent-gate has held its lock

Against the challenge of her knock!

Through Smyrna’s plague-hushed thorough-fares,

Up sea-set Malta’s rocky stairs,

Gray olive slopes of hills that hem

Thy tombs and shrines, Jerusalem,

Or startling on her desert throne

The crazy Queen of Lebanon

With claims fantastic as her own,

Her tireless feet have held their way;

And still, unrestful, bowed, and gray,

She watches under Eastern skies,

With hope each day renewed and fresh,

The Lord’s quick coming in the flesh,

Whereof she dreams and prophesies!