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Snowbound With Mr Whittier


Mural inside Whittier's Amesbury, MA house shows scene of Haverhill Birthplace/

"Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl" began as a very private poem written, not for publication, but for the poet’s only niece. It is the nostalgic story of a winter storm in a simpler time. It takes place in the poet’s boyhood home in Haverhill, today also preserved as an historic site. Stranded by deep snow, the young John Greenleaf Whittier, his family and their house guests gather by an ancient hearth and tell tales.

The poem shows the author musing on mortality. The heavy two-day snowfall transformed the familiar Whittier farm into an alien white landscape. ("We looked upon a world unknown.") Buried below the surface, safe and warm, the family recounted old stories, like ghosts whispering to the author from their graves. Remembering his youth, Whittier found it difficult to believe that only he and one brother were still alive by 1865.

We turn the pages that they read,
Their written words we linger o’er,
But in the sun they cast no shade,
No voice is heard, no sign is made,
No step is on the conscious floor!

But after spending healing time with his childhood memories, the poet breaks free. The storm ends. The sun comes out. The air is fresh and children run out to play. As the neighbors in "Snow-Bound" re-connect with the world and get back to their daily work, Whittier was able to shake off his nostalgia and come to terms with the changes in his life.

Something in this gentle ballad drove straight into the heart of postwar America exactly 140 years ago. "Snow-Bound", a long poem of 759 lines, was released as a small book on February 17, 1866. Whittier’s Boston publisher, James T. Fields (who was born in Portsmouth, NH) wrote back effusively:


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