Poetry Explication: "The Snow Arrives After Long Silence"
The poem, “The Snow Arrives After Long Silence” by Nancy Willard, uses figurative language to convey that snow cannot be understood by humans in natural terms; rather, it must be compared to familiar images that are not found in nature. Furthermore, the snow is depicted as pure and heavenly when it first falls, but once on Earth, it is marred by society.
“The Snow Arrives After Long Silence” begins with a personification of snow leaving its home. The snow’s home is always clean and never keeps time, which could be a reference to heaven or just the sky in general. In contrast, homes on Earth, and society in general, are typically dirty, and everyone keeps track of time. The sky is then compared to the color of oatmeal, a typically unprocessed food, using a simile. Directly after, another simile compares the sky to “sheep before shearing,” which depicts its natural, fluffy look. This initial depiction of the sky, as well as the contrast between sky and Earth, sets up the main theme that is conveyed throughout the poem: that the natural, pure qualities of snow are corrupted by our current way of life.
In the second stanza, the speaker’s housecat sits inside and watches the snow through a window. The cat is “amazed” by the snow, and can’t understand that it is falling snow, rather than feathers from a bird. The domesticated cat, tamed by humans, has trouble relating to snow even though its ancestors were wild and natural. Also in this stanza, the snow is personified as setting a table “with clean linen, putting its house in order.” The speaker, probably a homemaker herself, can relate to this image. In addition, the “clean linen” symbolizes the purity of snow when it first falls, a motif that is seen several times in the first two stanzas.
The snow is compared to a risen loaf of bread in the beginning of the third stanza. While bread itself is not actually found in nature, it is a somewhat divine image since it is one of the oldest foods and was eaten by ancient, unindustrialized societies. This half-natural, half-manmade feel attributed to bread signals a change in the snow as it goes from heavenly and pure to earthbound and corrupted by society. The deer “punch” holes in the fresh snow, which ruins its perfect purity. Their hoof prints are in the shape of broken hearts, further symbolizing the sad process by which snow becomes blemished on Earth. The transformation is complete with the next sentence, when “plows rumble and bale it like dirty laundry.” The big, unnatural plows treat the snow like it is dirty and worthless. The snow is compared to dirty laundry, which is once again an unnatural, domestic image that would be familiar to a homemaker.
The poem concludes with the snow being hauled to the Hudson River, where it will change from once beautiful, pure snow into common, dirty water. In the last sentence, the speaker “scan[s] the sky for snow and the cool cheek it offers me.” She finally shows some emotion with her anticipation of the snow and the feeling it brings. Alliteration of “s” and “c” draws the reader’s attention and emphasizes this sentence. Also, the word “offer” gives the reader insight into the speaker’s view of snow, since “offer” is generally associated with generosity and kindness. In the last stanza, there is no mention of any unnatural images or comparisons to household items. The speaker has finally realized that she cannot understand snow, and that she should just cherish it for what it is. In the last line, the “still caves where it sleeps” could imply either the clouds, where the “sleep[ing]” snow waits to fall, or it could literally mean caves in uninhabited areas where snow is undisturbed.
In “The Snow Arrives After Long Silence,” Nancy Willard employs similes, metaphors, and personification to depict snow. Almost none of the images she utilizes are originally found in nature; they are all products of society. In this way, the speaker can try to understand and relate to snow more clearly, but she eventually gives up and learns to just appreciate snow as nature’s gift. In addition, the motif of snow becoming dirtier as humans interact with it emphasizes society’s harmful influence on snow and nature in general.
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