"Angel Of The Backward Look"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This "Winter Idyl" is a tender evocation of home life and a valuable sociological picture of a bygone era. The poet remembers how his family was "snowed in" for a week when he was about fifteen years old. He gives a picture of the snow storm, and then he describes the people who are isolated in the cozy Whittier home–the brother, the father, the mother, the uncle ("rich in lore of fields and brooks"), "the dear aunt," the two sisters, the district schoolmaster ("Brisk wielder of the birch and rule"), and a hot-tempered woman named Harriet Livermore. These individuals pass the time by reading and by telling tales of their past adventures. In the morning they go out into the snow and meet the "wise old Doctor" in his sleigh. After a week they get a copy of the village paper, and reading the week-old news makes them feel a part of the world again. Whittier feels that reliving these childhood memories has uplifted him and has strengthened his soul. The past is a precious part of his life:

Clasp, Angel of the backward look
And folded wings of ashen gray
And voice of echoes far away,
The brazen covers of thy book;
The weird palimpsest old and vast,
Wherein thou hid'st the spectral past;
Where, closely mingling, pale and glow
The characters of joy and woe;
The monographs of outlived years,
Or smile-illumed or dim with tears. . . .