The Snow-Storm by Ralph Waldo Emerson

In ‘The Snow-Storm’ Emerson delves into the themes of nature, and the power of natural forces, and creation/construction. The mood is joyful throughout, even when the snowstorm hits and everyone has to shelter inside. The speaker depicts the warmth and privacy at home, encouraging the reader to consider the peace of those moments as well. The second half of the poem is very clearly celebratory in tone as the speaker describes what the snow/wind created overnight. 

 

Summary of The Snow-Storm

‘The Snow-Storm’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a colourful and joyful depiction of a night-long snowstorm and the “art” that’s revealed in the morning. 

The poem depicts the sudden appearance of the storm and the way in which everyone had to shelter inside. All travel was stopped and everyone turned inward to themselves and their housemates. But, outside their homes, the wind—a skilled and powerful craftsman— was working on his structures. 

When the sun finally came up the next morning the speaker took note of everything that had been created overnight. There were turrets and bastions, there were swan-like creations and wreaths that appeared to be made of marble. 

 

Structure of The Snow-Storm 

The Snow-Storm’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a two stanza poem that’s separated into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains nine lines and the second: nineteen. Emerson did not choose to unify these lines with a specific rhyme scheme, but, there are examples of half-rhyme throughout the text. 

Also known as slant or partial rhyme, half-rhyme is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For instance, “feet” and “sit” at the ends of lines six and seven of the first stanza. Or, “sky” and “Arrives” in lines one and two of the same stanza. 

 

Poetic Techniques in The Snow-Storm

Emerson makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Snow-Storm’. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, caesura, epistrophe, and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Fills,” “farmer’s,” and “farmer’s” in lines eleven and twelve of the second stanza.

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transitions between lines three and four of the first stanza and two and three of the second. 

Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. The third and fourth lines of the first stanza are a good example of this technique. They read: “Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air / Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven”. 

Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. A close reader can find examples of this technique in the second stanza where Emerson ends multiple lines with the word “work”. 

 

Analysis of The Snow-Storm 

Stanza One 

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. 

In the first stanza of ‘The Snow-Storm,’ the speaker begins by describing the start of the snowstorm. It came along with “trumpets of the sky”. The arrival of the snow was grand. It flowed over the hills, pushed by the wind, and alighted, or landed/stopped nowhere. 

The air itself turned white with the density of the snowstorm. It painted everything around it in similar shades as well. The “farm-house at the garden’s end” was covered by a “veil” of snow. A reader should take note of the fact that the speaker says “the” farmhouse. They are thinking of somewhere specific. This is a real setting and perhaps real events too. 

It’s not only the buildings and natural spaces that were impacted by the snow. The travellers had to stop travelling as “all friends” are shut out of one another’s homes. There is a new camaraderie that formed inside the houses as the “housemates site / Around the radiant fireplace”. This is a very clear example of juxtaposition. Emerson contrasts the warmth of the home against the freezing, blinding snowstorm outside. Plus, outside the house one is exposed to the elements while inside there is “privacy” from the storm and from the rest of the world. 

 

Stanza Two 

Lines 1-9 

Come see the north wind’s masonry. 

Out of an unseen quarry evermore 

Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer 

Curves his white bastions with projected roof 

Round every windward stake, or tree, or door. 

Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work 

So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he 

For number or proportion. Mockingly, 

On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths; 

In the second stanza of ‘The Snow-Storm,’ the speaker takes a different perspective on the storm. He personifies it, specifically the “north wind”. It becomes a mason, building its structures throughout the countryside. Through this depiction a reader can imagine the movements of the snow on the ground, how it piles up into towering forms, only to collapse and be rebuilt. 

In the next lines, he refers to “the fierce artificer”. The snow is like a skilled craftsman who creates bastions out of snow. There is a “projected roof / Round every windward stake”. These architectures are created and influenced by the “tree” or “door” around which they form. 

The wind is a powerful and speedy craftsman. It completes its wild work with many hands. What it makes is “fanciful” and “savage”. It is instinctual and inconsiderate of “number or proportion”. 

 

Lines 10-19 

A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn; 

Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall, 

Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and, at the gate, 

A tapering turret overtops the work. 

And when his hours are numbered, and the world 

Is all his own, retiring, as he were not, 

Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art 

To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone, 

Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work, 

The frolic architecture of the snow. 

Parian wreaths or creations that appear to be made of marble are on the “coop or kennel”. There are other forms, ones that are more “swan-like” in and around the landscape as well. The snow filled up the “farmer’s lane” completely.

In the final lines of ‘The Snow-Storm,’ the speaker reiterates the hours of work the wind put into the creation of these forms. Finally, the sun will come out and reveal the “wind’s night-work”. The art the wind left when the sun rose was “astonish[ing]”. The last line reemphasizes the personified wind and the joy-filled constructions it made during the night.

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