Whittier on weathering the storm

John Greenleaf Whittier is best known today for hymns such as ''Dear Lord and Father of us all,'' perhaps for ''The Barefoot Boy,'' and certainly for ''Snow-Bound''(1866). The latter reads like a classic New England idyll in passages like the one here. But it is also a statement of faith. As a peace-loving Quaker and ardent abolitionist, Whittier was left ''snowbound'' by the aftermath of the Civil War as well as personal vicissitudes. The poem, however, quietly proclaims that adversity could not freeze out his love for what is good in life.

The moon above the eastern wood Shone at its full; the hill-range stood Transfigured in the silver flood, Its blown snows flashing cold and keen, Dead white, save where some sharp ravine Took shadow, or the sombre green Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black Against the whiteness at their back. For such a world and such a night Most fitting that unwarming light, Which only seemed where'er it fell To make the coldness visible.

Shut in from all the world without, We sat the clean-winged hearth about, Content to let the north-wind roar In baffled rage at pane and door, While the red logs before us beat The frost-line back with tropic heat; And ever, when a louder blast Shook beam and rafter as it passed, The merrier up its roaring draught The great throat of the chimney laughed; The house-dog on his paws outspread Laid to the fire his drowsy head, The cat's dark silhouette on the wall A couchant tiger's seemed to fall; And, for the winter's fireside meet, Between the andirons' straddling feet, The mug of cider simmered slow, The apples sputtered in a row, And, close at hand, the basket stood With nuts from brown October's wood.

What matter how the night behaved? What matter how the north-wind raved? Blow high, blow low, not all its snow Could quench our hearth-fire's ruddy glow.

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