Poems about Snowstorms

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.

Quincy, MA - January 29: Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Quincy, MA, January 29: Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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")
Snow Covered Houses
Photo Credit: Pexels.com

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. 

Manhattan, Jan. 2022: Rueters; Andrew Kelly
Manhattan, Jan. 2022: Rueters; Andrew Kelly

Resources:

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26 thoughts on “Poems about Snowstorms

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  1. I watched it here on Long Island, and feel frustrated that I can no longer assist with digging out, not wishing to risk a fall that could rattle my new knee. Here in the suburbs, you get a luxurious silence for a few hours when no one is on the roads. The view during the storm was still beautiful as visibility waned.

    I love the first poem in this post.

    1. Long Island got a lot of snow! Glad to hear that you were able to enjoy it and were safe. There is something magical about that change in activity with a big storm, when it gets all quiet. I lived outside of Boston for years and know that change. I live up in Vermont now and we didn’t get any snow from the storm, and it is usually pretty quiet. Thanks for the comment and continued support.

  2. the ambivalence of/towards snow vs blizzard beautifully captured – from calm, peaceful – to terrifying especially for those homeless or with poor Housing.And 20 inches/45cm of snow in one go is certainly unsettling enough. Thanks for catching the mood for one in rainy Bonn, with a spring-like 7C. 🙂

    1. Hi Barbara, I am glad that you enjoyed this post. It was a fun one to put together in light of the big storm. I bet some people are very jealous of your spring like weather!

    1. I agree that Emerson’s poem is pretty great. I actually really enjoyed the before the storm description. I found that fun to read. Thanks for the comment and I hope all is well.

  3. In Virginia, we can be snow wienies. It snows so infrequently that people are in shock when it happens. Then we marshal ourselves and scrape off our cars. Shovels are borrowed.

    The Jan. 3 tie-up on I95 is a case in point……. the Va. troopers fell down on that one.

  4. Glad to know you survived the storm, Mark. I read about it online, of course, but that’s not the same as being in the middle of it. Being a big Stephen King fan, I remember him talking about those Nor’easters with a kind of horrified awe. The poetry you included was brilliant. I got a kick out of Buson throwing his katana! 😀 I’m a bit of a pushover for classic formats so Emerson’s and Longfellow’s offerings were really enjoyable. Of course, any haiku will earn applause from me. We certainly could have used some of your snow in this area. Thanks for such an in-depth essay, good sir. Well done. 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, Thanks again for the thoughtful comment. I really enjoyed the thinking about Emerson’s and Longfellow’s poems together. They really offered a couple of views of a similar experience. I hope you are doing well,

  5. About Issa’s 15 meters: that might be a bit much but there are places in Japan with huge annual snowfalls. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/worlds-snowiest-place-northwestern-japan-melting-climate-change That’s just from one search. I was staying in a highland valley at a friend’s house. He has many homes and in each has eclectic, fascinating libraries. In this one was a book about a Japanese village that gets huge snowfalls. It was a picture book. The villagers every winter make tunnels so they can visit between houses because the snow lays about 20′ above ground and most of their homes are barely visible. So he might not have been exaggerating!

    1. Wow! Thanks for sharing this information. Building tunnels between houses was always a dream of mine growing up. It would have been so cool to have to travel to my neighbors house through a tunnel. I, however, lived by the ocean and Massachusetts and the only tunnels we were able to make were in the snowbanks created by the snowplows. Thanks again for sharing this. Talk soon,

  6. Your post, especially the second to last picture reminds me of when we had to fight the snowdrifts driving home out to my dad’s house. It would blow across the fallow fields, and you could only drive the country roads by using your mind’s eye to guide you there. There was always a danger of being pulled off the road and into a powdery snow-filled ditch.

    1. Hi Melanie, I know that feeling. The snowdrifts can really change the look of the roadways. I’ve only ended up in the ditch a couple of times! Especially, when I had my little Escort. That is not a good car for the snow.

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