Out of the bosom of the Air, Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken, Over the woodlands brown and bare, Over the harvest-fields forsaken, Silent, and soft, and slow Descends the snow. (Excerpt from Longfellow’s “Snow-flakes”)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Snow-flakes” describes the approach of a peaceful snowstorm. One that glides into the area gently dropping snow over the landscape. As delightful as that is, it doesn’t quite capture the intensity of the storm that hit New England during the last weekend of January, 2022.
That storm was intense. It started as a nor-easter and quickly progressed into a blizzard for parts of Massachusetts.
For a snowstorm to qualify as a blizzard three conditions must exist.
- Sustained wind or frequent gust of 35 mph or greater
- Visibility is reduced to a ¼ mile or less due to the falling or blowing snow
- Both of these conditions last longer than 3 hours.
This blizzard dropped close to 23 inches of snow in the Boston area Other places along the east coast also reported snow totals of around two feet including MacArthur Airport in Long Island with 22 inches, and parts of New Jersey with close to 20 inches.
WIth high winds, power outages, and coastal flooding, the force of this storm resonates more with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Snow-Storm” than it does with Longfellow’s “Snow-flakes”. I even think the first stanza of “The Snow-Storm” could have been written last Friday as the people were preparing for the storm.
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. (Excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s "The Snow-Storm")
Interestingly, Yosa Buson wrote something similar about another snowstorm. Albeit, he used fewer words.
“Put me up for a night!” He threw the katana. It is a snow storm. -Buson
As we said, blizzards not only bring snow, but they bring wind. Cape Cod reported winds of close to 83 miles per hour. Emerson’s “The Snow-Storm” does a great job illustrating the impact that the snow can have on the winter landscape.
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; 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. (Excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s "The Snow-Storm")
I so appreciate the imagery of the wind’s wild work and the “Parian wreaths” that are formed on coops and kennels. I had actually read this poem before the storm hit and I almost welcomed its arrival. I wanted to see these wreaths and bastions on every “windward stake”, I wanted to frolic in the architecture of the snow.
I think Basho may have had a similar feeling about a snowstorm, but with a not so joyful result.
Let’s go out To see the snow view Where we slip and fall. -Basho
I also think that finding joy in these big storms may not be the popular view. Many people may wake up to two feet of snow and feel more like Issa.
Well, this is My final abode. The snow lay 15 meter. -Issa
15 meters is a lot of snow, and It might be a little bit of an exaggeration. Perhaps, Issa would appreciate Longfellow’s “Snow-flakes” poem after all. He might relate to its description of snow as a divine expression of sadness.
Even as our cloudy fancies take Suddenly shape in some divine expression, Even as the troubled heart doth make In the white countenance confession, The troubled sky reveals The grief it feels. This is the poem of the air, Slowly in silent syllables recorded; This is the secret of despair, Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded, Now whispered and revealed To wood and field. (Excerpt from Longfellow's "Snow-flakes")
No matter what your view of the snowstorm, you must admit that its power is humbling. It is a reminder that we are not as much in control as we hope, and Mother Nature will do what she wants.
If you were caught in the storm, I hope you were safe. If you are able to dig out and enjoy the snow, I hope you can find joy in nature’s frozen sculptures.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; “Snow-flakes”: Poetry Foundation
- Ralph Waldo Emerson; “The Snow-Storm”: Poetry Foundation
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