In "The First Snowfall," how does snow both remind the speaker of his pain and heal that pain?

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This poem uses snow as a trigger for certain thoughts, which bring the speaker from a position of grief to one of healing acceptance and love of life once again. Initially the snowfall that the speaker and his daughter experience forcibly reminds the speaker of how his dead daughter's gravestone is being covered with the same snow that is falling on them. This of course makes him very sad as he reflects on his loss and grief. However, when his other daughter asks him a question of where the snow comes from, he is able to shift his thinking towards happier thoughts:

I remembered the gradual patience

That fell from that cloud like snow,

Flake by flake, healing and hiding

The scar that renewed our woe.

The snow is thus compared to "gradual patience" that has the impact of reducing the pain and grief of the speaker, "healing and hiding" the "scar" that is used to represent his grief. The speaker is thus finally able to say to his daughter that snow originates from God, who is described as the "merciful father." Snow therefore moves the speaker to remember his grief at first, but then to reflect on how patience and divine love is able to heal it. The poem ends with the speaker kissing his daughter, but the speaker tells us his kiss is actually for his daughter who died, signifying a move towards acceptance of her death.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The sight of the first snow falling conjures in the father, the "sweet mound in Auburn" where his daughter is buried while it also reminds him of the "healing" powers of snow that covers all things as well as nourishing the earth with a beautiful white blanket.

A Romantic poet, James Russell Lowe looks to nature as a source of spiritual inspiration. Lowe, who is also considered one of the Fireside Poets--those poets who composed verse that often was inspirational--connects the first snowfall with sentimental feelings of the loss of his daughter:

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn 
Where a little headstone stood; 
How the flakes were folding it gently,

But he also recalls how the snow is possessive of nourishment that heals the earth as well as providing a covering to help in the "healing" of the scars of sorrow:

I remembered the gradual patience 
That fell from that cloud like snow, 
Flake by flake, healing and hiding 
The scar that renewed our woe.

This remembrance of the patience and goodness of nature inspires the father to acquire these virtues as well as nature's nurturing quality. So, he tells his daughter that it is the "merciful Father" who makes the snow fall. In so doing, the father is consoled for his loss by the blessings of God.

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