Compare and contrast Emerson’s poem “The Snow-Storm” with Emily Dickinson’s poem “It Sifts from Leaden Sieves.”In what ways are their depictions of the snowstorms similar and different?...

Compare and contrast Emerson’s poem “The Snow-Storm” with Emily Dickinson’s poem “It Sifts from Leaden Sieves.”

In what ways are their depictions of the snowstorms similar and different? How do the differences affect the mood of each piece?

Expert Answers
lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The mood of both poems is very different. In the Emerson poem, the snow is strong and comes out of the sky like a loud trumpet:

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,

In the Dickinson poem, it comes softly, as though being sifted from the sky:

It sifts from Leaden Sieves --
It powders all the Wood.

In the Emerson poem, the storm is strong and fierce - notice the use of the strong words:

In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he

Notice the lighter touch in the Dickinson poem:

It reaches to the Fence --
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces --
It deals Celestial Vail

In the Dickinson poem, the snow is personified throughout - you almost get the idea that the snow is a person. It is more of an object in the Emerson poem. Both poets use great imagery - but notice the tone of the imagery in the Dickinson poem and how gentle it is compared with the stronger imagery in the Emerson poem. Might this be because one is a man and the other is a female poet (not to be sexist)?

Your turn! Compare the different view of the snowstorm in each poem. Think about your own experience - aren't some snowstorms lovely and peaceful? Aren't some brutal, especially if you are driving in one?

See the links below.

Good luck.   

droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both of these poems, the snow is personified, with imagery depicting it (in Emerson's poem, "him"), as a builder, artisan, or craftsman whose snow is, in its own way, an act of creation.

Dickinson's snow "fills with Alabaster Wool / The Wrinkles of the Road" and "makes an even Face of Mountain and of Plain." The language she uses to describe snow is generally soft; there is no sense of destruction in the world being "lost in Fleeces" or in snow's dealing "Celestial Vail." Snow, in Emerson's poem seems to arrive, "powder" the world with almost a protective covering, and then retreat, "denying" that "it's Artisans" have ever been. In Dickinson's poem, then, snow is almost a band of whimsical "ghosts" who descend to earth, wrap it in white wonders, and then leave again, leaving no trace.

In Emerson's poem, there is a greater sense of urgency and strength to the snow: verbs like "driving" and descriptors like "the fierce artificer" leave one in more doubt as to the personified snow's motivations. It is assisted by "the north wind's masonry," its "white bastions," and "Parian wreaths" are hung "mockingly." We also see in Emerson's poem the difficulties snow can present to humans: "the sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet delayed..." The mood of Emerson's poem is less light than Dickinson's, with a greater sense of anxiety about what the snow could do.

Still, the end of Emerson's poem reflects the end of Dickinson's fairly closely, as day finds the snow "retiring, as he were not"—as if he had never been there. Only his "frolic architecture" is left behind him.

Read the study guide:
Emerson: The Roots of Prophecy

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