James Russel Lowell, born February 1819, was one of the 19th century's
celebrated 'Fire-side Poets' and gained much popularity with his romantic poems, including 'The First Snowfall'(written in 1847) in which he expresses his sorrow over the death of his young daughter.
James Russel Lowell had his college education in Cambridge. There he was
taught classics in Greek and Latin. Lowell chose to specialize in law and in 1840 passed the bar exam. It wasn't until a year after that that he published his first volume of poetry.
"The First Snowfall" depicts Lowell's deep mourning over the death of his daughter and the healing powers that nature possesses. In the first four stanzas he uses symbolism and strong imagery to show emotional forces within the setting and nature in general. Once he reaches the fifth stanza he reveals the death that has made him so melancholy. He says "I thought
of a mound in sweet Auburn/Where a little headstone stood." (20-21) Stanzas seven and eight are where he suggests the healing of nature most strongly. Then tenth stanza is a most bitter-sweet conclusion, wherein he sends his love to his dead daughter through her living sister.
The meter of this poem is a triameter, and the rhymescheme is an 'AbAb' format. This makes the poem easier to read and it gives it slight feeling of bouyancy, which conflicts with the melancholy theme. This balances the poem out so that it has a bitter-sweet feeling throughout and does not sound too happy or sad at any given time.
One of the most prominent literary devices that Lowell uses here is symbolism. For example, the snow. Snow is used not only to show the healing powers of nature but also the innocence of his deceased daughter. The white everywhere in the scenery may also be there to show purity.
The brief mention of a highway, "The snow had begun in the gloaming/And busily all the night/Had been heaping field and highway"(1-3), may have been to symbolize destinations and where they lead, i.e. life after death. Lowell also seems fond of metaphor and he uses it very frequently.
He compares ice to pearl, "And the poorest twig on the elm-tree/Was ridged inch deep with pearl." (7-8) This particular description gives the simple icy tree a feel of profound elegance. He also uses dialogue in the sixth and ninth stanzas where he is talking to his living daughter.
I think the most important image of the poem is a tactile image which occurs in the last stanza saying "And she, kissing back, could not know/That my kiss was given to her sister/folded close under the deepening snow."(38-40) This is such a strong and tragic image that, for me, it makes the poem. I also found his aural imagery in line 4 to be very strong. "With a silence deep and white." (4) James Russel Lowell has an abundance of visual imagery within
this poem ranging from the emotive,"Flake by flake, healing and hiding/The scar that renewed our woe," (31-32) to the almost uplifting,"And the sudden flurries of snowbirds/Like brown leaves whirling by," (15-16) to the meticulously descriptive,"And the poorest twig on the elm tree/Was ridged inch deeo with pearl." (7-8)
The overall impact of this poem is Lowell's deeply affecting sorrow and despair over the death of his daughter which nature was able to sooth and heal. He seems to want parents to know that there is comfort after the loss of a child once you are looking at the natural world, and appreciate your children while you have them.
This poem made me feel sad but so hopeful at the same time. Although Lowell's story is tragic, he shows all hope through nature. I could appreciate this because I've learned that you just have to appreciate people while you have them and let nature take its course.