Snow Analysis by David Berman

In this article, we are going through a detailed analysis of the poem ‘Snow’ by David Berman. David Berman opens his poem with two brothers who are outside in winter. The two brothers are walking through a field and see snow angels. The younger brother asks who made the snow angels. The older brother tells him that it was a troop of angels who had been shot and dissolved. The younger brother continues to ask questions about who shot them and why. The older brother says a farmer shot them for trespassing. The narrator then finishes by saying the outdoors is like a room. Snow is a poem that takes a number of snapshots of a dialogue between two brothers on a walk through a field of snow. The older brother is the ‘lead’ player and it’s his mindset the reader is invited into, to try and make sense of his response to his little brother, after the discovery of snow angels in the snow.

The big brother knows the angels have been made by local kids but out of the blue creates a fictional reason for their existence. A farmer has shot the angels. They melted into the snow as a result. Whether he does this in an attempt to try and ‘entertain’ his kid brother or comes out with this flight of fancy merely as an exercise in imaginative thinking, the reader has to work it out one way or the other.

After the initial exchange between the brothers, there is a vacuum, which is filled with a vivid image of ice as they walk across a frozen lake. This shift in space is sudden. One minute they are in the snow, the next they are looking down into the water through the ice. There is an altered state of reality here wrapped up in a simile – the ice looks like a photograph as if the speaker has seen many photographs of water.

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The surface tension grows as the younger brother seeks answers as to why a farmer would kill angels, putting the older brother into uncharted territory. His imagination, quick enough to create a shooting scenario, is now at a loss.

The speaker reverts to his internal thoughts and compares a snowy environment to a room. It is another simile, connecting the snow to a house, a home. The reader is taken back in time, not too far back, to a common enough scene of neighbors clearing away the snow. An innocuous activity yes, but note the re-entry of slightly disturbing language again – the room has been blasted and is falling.

The older brother, the speaker, has either been affected by his own imagined shooting of the angels and this has colored his memory of that morning’s snow clearance near his house. On the other hand, something has already happened to the brothers, something has upset their domestic life and that is the reason why they are out walking in the snow with their minds on the death of angels.

Something innocent has died in their lives. The little brother’s final question sums it all – why do these kinds of things happen to the innocent ones? The poem overall has a cold feel to it. There is nothing of the beauty of snow; all is slightly surreal and lacking positivity. For two brothers out walking in snow, readers would expect a little fun, play, and mischievousness, but the reader has to work with a frozen emotion and questions that have no answer. Perhaps this was originally a piece of prose made into a shape-poem by a slight adjustment to the line, look, and length. It is a kind of part-story with gaps ready to be filled with the reader’s own imagination.

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Critical Analysis of Snow by David Berman

This poem has a period after each thought, which is usually each line, which makes it easier to read. There is no rhyme but it still has a lot of meaning and thought. The symbols in this poem were snow, angels, outdoors, water, and many others. They all symbolized that as life went on, all the younger brother thought about were the angels that were shot.

Snow could be a prose-poem, the long lines looking more like passages from a story than a rhythmical construct. Perhaps they reflect the walk, which was a long one. Each line varies in length between 9 and 15 syllables and most are end-stopped, save for the first and third lines, where enjambment is used, carrying on the sense from one line to the next without punctuation.

This loose arrangement gives the poem an unusual feel. Most lines are complete in themselves, the syntax straightforward enough as internal punctuation is at a minimum.

Rhyme Scheme of the Poem Snow by David Berman

Altogether, there are 16 lines with no end rhymes so making this a free verse poem with many stanzas, differing in length between a single line and three lines. This separation of a line from a line by white space gives the structure a detached feel, almost as if the speaker is saying to the reader – have a long pause and think about what’s gone before whilst I continue my walk through the snow.

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Snow is a poem that focuses on the interaction between two brothers who are out for a walk through a field of snow. It contains vivid imagery within its long lines and confronts the reader with the older brother’s dark imagination, despite a seemingly innocent opening scenario.

David Berman, poet, teacher and musician, published this poem in 1999 in the book Actual Air. Snow has become the most popular poem from this collection and is regularly featured in the school curriculum, fascinating students. What is striking about this poem is the contrast between reality and fiction; every day against the universal. The older brother’s off-hand, almost sinister explanation for the existence of the snow angels is one that profoundly affects the younger brother.

As the poem progresses, the reader is tempted to think that the older brother’s imagined demise for the angels is of little importance, especially as the scene shifts in time to earlier on in the day, and the clearing away of the snow by the older brother.

However, the language here becomes disturbing and the reader could be forgiven for thinking that the older brother made up the angel killing because he wanted to stir things up on what was a boring, dismal winter day. The final line adds to the strange tension set up in the poem – could he imagine shooting possibly set off a negative chain reaction in the mind of the sibling? On the other hand, is this simply another life lesson the younger brother has to learn, that of the difference between fact and fake news. We hope you enjoyed reading the analysis of the poem Snow by David Berman. 


Abhishek is a marketing research and social media consultant who developed a keen interest in blogging. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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