Frost was proud of his small, compact poems that say much more than they seem to say; his 1923 volume New Hampshire gathers several of these, including “Fire and Ice,” “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” and one of the shortest of all, “Dust of Snow.” One sentence long, it occupies eight short lines and contains only thirty-four words, all but two of them monosyllabic, and all of them part of even a young child’s vocabulary.

The way a crowShook down on meThe dust of snowFrom a hemlock treeHas given my heartA change of moodAnd saved some partOf a day I had rued.

Much of the effect of this poem derives from its paradoxes or seeming contradictions, the first of which is in the title. Although the phrase “a dusting of snow” is common in weather reports, dust usually calls forth notions of something dirty and unpleasant, quite unlike the dust of snow.

It is also paradoxical that the speaker’s mood is initially so negative on a presumably fine winter day after a fresh snowfall, that he has so far rued this day. Even more paradoxically, the agent responsible for provoking a change for the better is a bird normally contemned: the large, black, raucous...

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