Snowbound but unbowed

In today’s Wednesday Journal of OP & RF:

Do Whittier students know he crusaded against slavery? John Greenleaf Whittier, that is, namesake of the Oak Park school across from the Dole Branch? He was a friend of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who published him for the first time, in 1826, when Whittier was 19.

Do they know he wrote “Snowbound,” his 1860s poem featuring his parents, his brother and two sisters, bachelor uncle and unmarried aunt, and the local school teacher, who boarded with them?

I hope so. I hope they memorize it or some of its 759 lines, for reciting in February, especially this one, when it is specially appropriate.

And more more more about poetry as

what we want for our boys and girls, what fires the imagination, insulates them against the brittle plasticity of popular culture.  . . .  a firewall of the poetic.  None should leave school without one.


UPDATE:  Reader Who Remembers has this to say in an email:

You bring back memories of 1st year at Mercy High School and Sister Hyacinth (6 feet tall with a face like Lewis Stone [Judge Hardy, Andy’s pere]). On the occasion of the first snowfall of the year, she brought out this poem by James Russell Lowell, and we were told to memorize it and recite it — we went over it that day — I memorized it and can recite most of it by memory still today — phrases like “Came Chanticleer‘s muffled crow” we learned a different name for rooster! And I probably had never known what “Carrara” was, before this poem. The beauty of language: snow as “ermine.” And every first snowfall, the poem comes to mind, and I see that classroom on Prairie Avenue, with all the girls in their navy blue uniforms, moaning silently because of the assignment.

The complete Lowell poem:

“The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.

Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer‘s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.

I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.

Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.

Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.

I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
The scar of our deep-plunged woe.

And again to the child I whispered,
“The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!”

Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.

UPDATE 2:  The Whittier and Lowell snow poems are paired in a McDougal Littell textbook, in a section on “the Fireside Poets.”  From an ML editor:

The latter poem describes the first snowfall on the grave of a child taken by illness. The pairing offers nice opportunity for comparison and contrast of snow imagery, as you might imagine. Nice poems, both.