Poetry Review: “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost

Bark Writing (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Bark Writing (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

A snowless winter in the North Country has meant brown and barren yards. Not the most beautiful or poetic of vistas… yet with the exception of nordic skiers, who is really going to complain about a mild winter. Certainly not the birds.

Most winters, my feeders see steady action from cardinals and blue jays. This year they have been quite scare. Ground feeding is a easy thing when there is no snow to get in the way.

Crows though have been quite noticeable… not at my feeders, but around the neighborhood and yard. Small family groupings moving around, walking and squawking, playing as only crows do. I have always loved crows, and after reading Crow by Boria Sax, I love their presence even more.

In honor of the under-appreciated crow and crow family, MontanaWriter will be featuring a small selection of poems over the next few weeks featuring the Corvus, beginning with this Robert Frost favorite.

“Dust of Snow” is a staple of literature classes. One of those poems that English teachers love to “unpack.” A short poem pregnant with multi-layerd meanings, with chances to show off your critical dexterity:  ”hemlock” and Socrates… “hemlock” and Shakespeare… “dust” and death… “rued” and death… black of crow and white of snow…. Few who have spent much time in a classroom have managed to carry this poem away un-sullied.

And yet is is a wonderful poem for all the reasons that the usual analysis completely misses. Easily memorized and fun to recite, it is one of those poems that comes naturally unbidden anytime we see a crow in the winter-time. It is as near a perfect poem as any Frost ever wrote… as any American poet ever wrote.

Enjoy!

Dust of Snow
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

 

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

 

Mood is important in poetry. It is the kernel at the center of all poems… especially a short one like this. Success is a short poem depends on getting the mood/emotion exactly right with just a few words and phrases. This is the challenge of haiku and of shorter works like this one.

Now listen to Robert Frost reading these lines: link to Frost reading this poem.

 

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