Snow-Bound

I just posted John Greenleaf Whittier‘s most famous poem
[Snow-Bound, in the  Americana page above ].

I recently found an 1897  copy of Whittier’s works printed for Houghton Mifflin by the Riverside Press in Cambridge, MA.  The book was on the used book rack at my local supermarket and cost one dollar.  I had no idea how extensive Whittier’s output was.
I also learned that he was a Quaker and  an ardent abolitionist.

It’s another long regional poem – but it is worth it, especially if you know rural New England in the winter.  And although it is regional, it is also global in its scope.  Wait until you are in the right mood. Until then, you can peruse the first few stanzas. If  your attention wanes,  go to the end and read the last stanzas.  You can always get to know this poem  section by section.

I love the description of the family friend, a “…not unfeared, half welcome guest” of   a “certain pard-like, treacherous grace” who had been to Lebanon.

In the author’s  dedication he  says the following about the above-mentioned friend on p. 398 of my edition.   She was:

“…Harriet Livermore…of New Hampshire, a young woman of fine natural ability, enthusiastic, eccentric, with slight control over her violent temper , which sometimes made her religious profession doubtful. She was equally ready to exhort in school-house prayer meetings and dance in a Washington ball-room, while her father was a member of congress. She early embraced the doctrine of the Second Advent, and felt it her duty to proclaim the Lord’s speedy coming. With this message she crossed the Atlantic and spent the greater part of a long life in travelling over Europe and Asia. She lived some time with Lady Hester Stanhope, a woman as fantastic and mentally strained as herself, on the slope of Mt. Lebanon, but finally quarrelled with her in regard to two white horses with red marks on their backs which suggested the idea of saddles, on which her titled hostess expected to ride into Jerusalem with the Lord. A friend of mine found her, when quite an old woman, wandering in Syria with a tribe of Arabs, who with the Oriental notion that madness is inspiration, accepted her as their prophetess and leader. At the time referred to in Snow-Bound she was boarding at the Rocks Village about two miles from us.”

This description of Miss Livermore has greatly added to my appreciation of Snow-Bound. The poem was a best-seller back in the day, and earned  both money and nation-wide recognition for J.G. Whittier. There are so many lines of this poem that I could bring before you.  But I will leave you with these:

“Clasp, Angel of the backward look

And folded wings of ashen gray

And voice of echoes far away,

The brazen covers of thy book;

The weird palimpsest old and vast,

Wherein thou hid’st the spectral past;

Where, closely mingling, pale and glow

The characters of joy and woe;

The monographs of outlived years,

Or smile-illumed or dim with tears,

Green hills of life that slope to death,

And haunts of home, whose vistaed trees

Shade off to mournful cypresses

With the white amaranths underneath.”

That’s definitely  poetry.
Time to look up the word “palimpsest
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