Letter from Felixstowe: Snow in the Gloaming

Our tree by the sea in the snow

Our tree by the sea in the snow

Snow has been on my mind this week. Several days ago, we watched reports of the U.S. northeast storm, with its less-than-some-expected but still significant accumulations. In the past 24 hours, heavy snow has been falling across northern parts of the UK. This afternoon in Felixstowe, following a morning of sunshine, we had this winter’s first snowfall.

This reminded me of a poem I memorised in 8th grade at Ho-Ho-Kus Public School in New Jersey. If anyone reading this also was there in the era of the incomparable English teachers Mrs Mercier and Mrs Bickell (among the group of brilliant teachers with whom we were blessed), you may also remember reciting poems in front of the class. I don’t recall if we chose our poems or they were assigned, but one of mine was James Russell Lowell’s The First Snowfall.

This poem impressed me when I was a teenager and it seems more beautiful today. With thanks to the poet and Mrs Bickell, here it is:

The First Snowfall
by James Russell Lowell

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.

Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.

I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snowbirds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.

Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-Father
Who cares for us here below.

Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.

I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
The scar that renewed our woe.

And again to the child I whispered,
“The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!”

Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her:
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.

Hope everyone in the Northern Hemisphere stays warm and cozy and enjoys any snow that comes your way.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

5 Responses

  1. Hi Carolyn and Clive,
    Oh to have snow, that would be wonderful, we have been having such hot weather, that I have be wishing and wishing it would snow. The Australia Day weekend was so hot, come Monday we did have cooler weather but it is starting to heat up again, so when you have finished with the snow please send it our way I would love it. Hope you are both well, take care. Heather. xx

  2. Thanks Heather and Stephen for your comment and wish you were here to share the snow! Thinking of you in the Aussie summer and hope cooler temps arrive soon. Take care and love to all xx

  3. Think I memorized “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” when I was in Mrs. Mercier’ s class, which would have been in 6th grade. I always like Robert Frost’s snow poems such as “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

  4. I memorized, in flanders fields for mrs. Bickell. I can still recite it. I remember we had to write it from memory in mr perrys class, don’t know why because he was the math teacher.

  5. Eleanor, that’s great about ‘Paul Revere’ and I agree about Robert Frost’s snow poems – also learned in HHK Public school.

    Janet, very cool re ‘Flanders Fields’ — I remember writing it out but not reciting! Can still remember all of Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ — weren’t we lucky to have those experiences/teachers. Thanks for the memories!

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