The poem the cross of snow was written by one of the most read poets of America, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in the year 1879. He wrote this sonnet commemorating the loss of his beloved wife, eighteen years after her death. He lost his wife in a fire that took place due to her dress catching flames from the fireplace (at some places it is mentioned candle-fire), he tried his best but couldn’t save her in the process he too was burnt severely. He could never really get over this tragic incident and his wife’s demise this poem that was written after such a long period of the happening proofs this fact. It is a Petrarchan sonnet i.e. it is structured in fourteen lines and follows a rhyming scheme of (abba abba cde cde). Here is the cross of snow summary.
The Cross of Snow Summary by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The poem beings with an introduction to the subject the poem is about to deal with. It presents before us the image of a person who has been long dead. It is the time of night, the poet carefully mentions the terms like “long”, “sleepless,” “watches” denoting to the reader that something really important is being taken care of or being guarded. The poet describes that the person who is now dead and being talked about was calmly looking and had soft features. He can feel that the person is looking at him from the wall in-front; this description here gives a place for psychoanalysis when a person misses someone a lot they are bound to wonder stuff like this also it is little creepy to think that a face is staring at you from the wall. But the poet has subtly let the point from being ghostly and scary for he makes the face look angelic, he says that the night-lamp is emitted a circle of light around it. It’s a general figure of an angle, demons don’t go with a halo. Therefore it symbolizes that the person the poet is talking about was like an angle to him.
In the next line he tells us that it is the very room that person, now we know a woman, died. He still continues to praise her, he says that she was a great person, a pure soul and tells us the reason behind her death. In these lines, we get to know that she died in a fire he uses the term “martyrdom of fire”. He reflects that her death was a sacrifice and she was a rare blessed soul that cannot be easily found in history. His description of her death appears to be self-reassuring; the poet wants to believe that her death was painless, unlike the deaths caused due to fire burn. We all know fire burns cause immense pain, here the poet dearly loved this woman and thinking of her in such pain would have been unbearable for him.
So he is explaining himself more than the reader that she had a painless death. He is proud of her and states it with complete confidence that even in books that is history a pure soul like her is difficult to be found. In the next lines, the poet metaphorically describes his emotional burden. He says that there is a distant mountain in the west that has canyons it in a way that the sun rays are unable to infiltrate it and therefore it has stored snow on its side. It uses of the terms” mountain”, “distant West”, “sun-defying”, “deep ravine” are metaphors for a man and his hidden feelings that are unreachable for others than him. And since no one can know about these emotions it remains unheeded and gets accumulated into a pile.
For until we share our emotional baggage it becomes a burden to difficult to hold, but there are times when a person is in no condition to unload it, to let it go. The poet accepts this fact in the last lines of this poem. He says that he has had such a cross on his breast since the day the lady died and it has been eighteen long years but the condition still remains the same. The poet is unable to forgive himself for her death he thinks he is responsible since he couldn’t blow off the fire, he couldn’t save her. The pain of her loss is so severe that he can’t get off the regret of his breast and has been carrying it since the day she died. He has remained the same no matter what the seasons have been no matter what the conditions have been. He could no longer enjoy life as before an eternal pain had engulfed him.
This poem makes the reader sad for two reasons, the painful way the lady died and the impact this incident it had on the poet. It also shows the quality of true love and repentance, it is an unhappy romantic poem like typical Wadsworth Longfellow poems.