The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

One December day a wind from the east and a leaden sky forecast snow. As night came on, the members of the Whittier family brought in firewood, littered the cattle stalls with fresh straw, and fed the stock. All night the storm raged, and in the morning the Whittiers looked upon a world of fleecy snow. The elder Whittier, a man of action, ordered a path dug to the barn, and his sons merrily turned to the work, making a crystal-walled tunnel through the deepest drift. Although the snow no longer fell, all day a north wind drove bits of sleet against the windows of the house. Again, as night fell, wood was brought in for the great fireplace around which the family gathered. While the moon shone on the snow outside and the north wind battered the house, the family stayed snug and warm inside.

As the poet recalls this happy scene of long ago, he pauses a moment to think of the many changes that later took place. Only he and his brother now remain; death took all the others. His memory goes back to the old fireside, the stories told there, the puzzles and riddles solved, the poems recited. The elder Whittier told of adventures he had with the Indians, of fishing trips, and of the witches reputed to inhabit the land in olden days. The mother told of Indian raids and of the happy times she had as a girl. To these stories from her own life she added some that she read in books by famous and revered Quakers.

Next the poet calls to mind the tales of the world of nature told by his uncle, a man unschooled in a formal way but seemingly filled with a boundless knowledge of moons and...

(The entire section is 651 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Kribbs, Jayne K., comp. Critical Essays on John Greenleaf Whittier. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. Includes early reviews and structuralist criticism. Discusses John Greenleaf Whittier’s Quaker principles. Snow-Bound is addressed in an early review and in an essay on imagistic and structural unity.

Leary, Lewis. John Greenleaf Whittier. New York: Twayne, 1961. Summarizes earlier views of Snow-Bound and offers lucid paraphrase of each part.

Pickard, John B. John Greenleaf Whittier: An Introduction and Interpretation. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1961. Focuses on the image of fire. Snow-Bound is discussed extensively in the chapter on genre poetry.

Pickard, John B. Memorabilia of John Greenleaf Whittier. Hartford, Conn.: The Emerson Society, 1968. Collects unpublished papers on Whittier and includes an extensive collection of photographs of the poet. Contains one essay on Snow-Bound.

Wagenknecht, Edward. John Greenleaf Whittier: A Portrait in Paradox. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. Considers Whittier in light of his philosophy, especially his Quaker principles of pacifism and enlightenment. Considers Snow-Bound in relation to these themes.