What is the tone of the peom "the first snow in Alsace" by Richard Wilbur?

Expert Answers
jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I feel a quiet sadness in Richard Wilbur's "The First Snow in Alsace." This delicate little poem speaks about the first snowfall in Alsace, a territory in central Europe disputed by the French and German forces in World War I. This is a war poem covered with snow, quieted by and obscured by rumpled sheet of white.

The first stanza describes snow in a way that is strange and unfamiliar, yet it's jarring quality befits the implications of war:

The snow came down last night like moths
Burned on the moon; it fell till dawn,
Covered the town with simple cloths.

Moths burned on the moon. How disturbing. Yet, the signs of war are covered by the dead snow-moths. Bomb craters are filled in, and ammunitions are covered. It's as if, for a brief respite, the horrible reminders of war's cruelty and destruction have vanished, and nature is once more free to do what it does, silently and undisturbed. Everyone: children, townsfolk and night-watchmen alike, share in the momentary, peaceful magic of the softness of a fluffy white blanket on a cold winter's night.

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tone of the poem 'First Snow in Alsace' by Richard Wilbur does have sadness in it, but I also detect a note of anger,of bitterness, in it. It is as if the beauty of the snow falling is all wasted because it is falling on a land made ugly by mankind and war. From the very first sentence, we can tell the way the tone of the poem is going. 'Moths burned on the moon' starts off as being a beautiful apt simile and ends with the realisation that the 'moths' are dead,burnt out, like the ammo shells,soldiers' hearts and bombed houses. From this point we the readers realise that the poem is to have a cynicism (or some may prefer to say,realism) about it. The snowflakes or 'moths' have been burned alive and fall, like ashes or cinder flakes, to the ground. The forced jovilaity of the ending tone is an ironic contrast.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question