“Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost (1923)

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued

Robert Frost (1874-1963) was an American poet and four-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He was publically renowned during his lifetime, and was one of the few well-known literary figures in America. The son of two teachers, he was exposed to great literature at an early age; but after the death of his father, his family left San Francisco and settled in Massachusetts. Though he grew up in the city, his poetry was famous for its reflection of rural landscapes, and capturing the realistic imagery and colloquial language of the northeastern countryside. Frost left Dartmouth College during his first semester, returned home to teach, and shortly afterwards, his first poem was published. He attended Harvard College as well, but left to pursue a career in writing. Later, after establishing his literary clout, he taught at Amherst and Middlebury Colleges.

“Dust of Snow” was published in the Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of poetry New Hampshire. Frost uses a conventional ABAB rhyme scheme and omits adjectives or adverbs in the poem. This style elucidates the simplicity of the everyday occurrence: a crow taking flight from a tree branch; but, most importantly, Frost shows how such an innocuous action has gravity for the narrator, giving him “a change of mood.” Frost’s uncanny ability to elicit deep-meaning with colloquial and basic language is in full display in this poem.

There is one word that Frost uses that pervades a certain meaning throughout the rest of the poem: hemlock. We associate hemlock poison with death, specifically the Socrates’s proverbial willful death. In the Phaedo, Socrates claims philosophy (the pursuit of wisdom) is ultimately a preparation for death. It is this recognition of death that inspires the narrator to have a change of heart: once he realizes he is condemned to death, his day takes on a whole new meaning. Moreover, the crow is a dark bird and a symbol for death, as well as the “dust” imagery—to dust we shall return. The narrator’s awareness of his coming death reignites a passion within his narrator’s heart, and “saves” his day from the indifference he possessed before. He is reminded that he should seize the day, since he only has so many.

This poem was originally published in Frost’s poetry collection New Hampshire, but is most commonly found in more modern collections of Frost’s poems which can be purchased on Amazon.

“Remember” by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more, day by day,
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894) was a poet of English-Italian descent whose primary focus centered around romantic, devotional, and children’s poetry. She started writing poetry as a young child, composing and reciting her own original poetry as early as age six. Rosetti’s first published poem, “To My Mother,” was written when she was only 11 years old (although it was not published for several years). In her teens, Rossetti began writing for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood literary magazine The Germ, which was operated and edited by her brothers. Although she wrote under the pen name Ellen Alleyne during this period, it is nonetheless generally considered to be the beginning of Rossetti’s public career. Rossetti published her first collection of poems, “Goblin Market” and Other Poems, in 1862 under her own name. The collection was praised highly by reviewers, but produced disappointing sales figures. Three more collections—“The Prince’s Progress” and Other Poems, Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book, and Collected Poems—were published in 1886, 1872, and 1875, respectively. After the death of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1861, Rossetti was looked to as Browning’s successor, and her reputation remained strong following her own death from cancer in 1894.

Common themes in Rossetti’s poetry include death, gender and sexuality, the sublime, tragic love, and religious doubt. A number of twentieth-century scholars have also analyzed Rossetti’s poetry through a Freudian lens, looking for signs of guilt and repressed sexuality.

The poem “Remember” was published by Rossetti in 1862 as a part of her collection “Goblin Market” and Other Poems. It is a Petrarchan sonnet with a rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDE CDE and is one of her better known poems. The word “remember” is repeated five times within the poem, which expresses the desire of a (presumably female) speaker whose hope is that her beloved will keep her memory alive beyond death. The repeated use of “remember” and “remember me” indicate the strength of the speaker’s desire to not be forgotten, although this forceful plea is relaxed at the end of the poem when the speaker acknowledges that the happiness of her beloved is ultimately the most important thing. While most of the poem is spent trying to ensure that she will be remembered after she dies, the speaker realizes that keeping her memory alive must not occur at the price of another’s happiness. She does not want her beloved to be sad that she is gone, but wants him instead to understand that the afterlife and a physical existence are two separate realms, and, moreover, to rejoice in the memories of the good times they have spent together.

“Besides the Autumn poets sing” by Emily Dickinson

Besides the Autumn poets sing
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the Haze —

A few incisive Mornings —
A few Ascetic Eves —
Gone — Mr. Bryant’s “Golden Rod” —
And Mr. Thomson’s “sheaves.”

Still, is the bustle in the Brook —
Sealed are the spicy valves —
Mesmeric fingers softly touch
The Eyes of many Elves —

Perhaps a squirrel may remain —
My sentiments to share —
Grant me, Oh Lord, a sunny mind —
Thy windy will to bear!

dickinsonEmily Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet who lived the majority of her life in Amherst, Massachusetts. A reclusive, private person throughout adulthood, she dealt with the death of a close friend at a young age, which no doubt attributed to the recurring presence of death and immortality in her later poems.  She maintained frequent and personal correspondence with her friends in lieu of physical relationships that her introverted character could not withstand.  Dickinson was a prolific poet, writing nearly eighteen hundred poems in just half a century.  Only a handful were published during her lifetime, and these were heavily edited to fit more contemporary poetic conventions.  Unlike other famous poets at the time, she wrote in short lines and utilized slant rhyme and unconventional mechanics.

“Besides the Autumn poets sing” was written in 1859, during what is considered the first period of Emily Dickinson’s writing.  The poet uses a conventional rhyme scheme to bring to life the transitional nature of autumn, a period of time that sits uniquely between “the snow” and “the Haze”.  Just as the mornings and evenings become more severe and inhospitable to living things, the plants that were recently in full bloom are “Gone”; Dickinson alludes to William Bryant’s poem “The Death of the Flowers” and James Thompson’s poem “The Seasons” in this second stanza.  The flowers, the brook, the elves, all lively aspects of nature still and sleep as the autumn gives way to winter.

While the first three stanzas enumerate the changes to nature that occur during the fall season, the fourth shows Dickinson’s awareness of the effects that seasonal change can have on the human mind and disposition.  In the same way that special lamps are installed on college campuses to counteract the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, Dickinson recognizes that “a sunny mind” and disposition left over from the summer months is required to bear the “windy will” of God that is encountered during the winter.  She also identifies the loneliness and solitary feelings that can occur toward the end of the year when the season has stripped the trees and sent the animals into hibernation. Dickinson hopes for “a squirrel” to remain once autumn has passed into winter, helping her bridge the gap between the different seasons and the effects that they have on both the landscape and her own mind.

“Sonnet IV” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born on  February 22, 1892 in Rockland, ME. She died on October 19, 1950. Her rise to fame began with the long poem “Renascence,” which she submitted to a poetry contest in 1912. Though she was ultimately awarded fourth place, her poem had been widely considered the best entry and her low finish caused a scandal that brought Millay a lot of publicity. Shortly thereafter, she received an offer to have her education at Vassar College paid for by a wealthy patron of the arts who enjoyed Millay’s poem. She published several collections of poetry and several plays throughout her lifetime. In 1923, Millay became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

This poem is characteristic of Millay’s work in that it is clearly written from a female perspective. This is a traditional Shakespearean sonnet that speaks of love, as many Millay poems do. Here the speaker tells a lover that their time together is brief, so they must cherish every moment of it before either or both of them falls out of love or is forced to separate by outside circumstances. While they are together they will make promises to each other that might not be fulfilled, including the vows Millay mentions.  The speaker laments that the vows are not binding, but ends with the consolation that it doesn’t really matter, “biologically speaking.” Essentially, the poem concludes with a wry acceptance of the failure of individual relationships in light of the larger pattern of survival.  Millay’s whimsical tone suggests a quirky take on the carpe diem conventions, seeming to reject the urgency of the genre but leaving the reader reasons to wonder if the speaker is desperately trying to mask her frustration.

“As Toilsome I Wander’d Virginia’s Woods” by Walt Whitman (1865)

As toilsome I wander’d Virginia’s woods,
To the music of rustling leaves kick’d by my feet, (for ’twas autumn,)
I mark’d at the foot of a tree the grave of a soldier;
Mortally wounded he and buried on the retreat, (easily all could understand,)
The halt of a mid-day hour, when up! no time to lose–yet this sign left,
On a tablet scrawl’d and nail’d on the tree by the grave,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.
Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering,
Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of life,
Yet at times through changeful season and scene, abrupt, alone, or in the crowded street,
Comes before me the unknown soldier’s grave, comes the inscription rude in Virginia’s
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.


Walt Whitman was born in 1819 on Long Island, New York. Before his transformation into a radical poet, he edited a series of newspapers, worked for printers and publishers, was a schoolteacher, and even published a few short stories and poems, although these are considered unexceptional and conventional. When Whitman published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, some of the poems shocked contemporary critics with their openly sexual themes.

“As Toilsome I Wander’d Virginia’s Woods” was originally published in 1865 in the collection Drum-Taps. This and the accompanying poems were later incorporated into the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass. Whitman became involved in the American Civil War in 1862, when he went to Virginia to visit his wounded brother, and then to Washington, D.C., where he became a nurse to wounded soldiers. In both of the collections Drum-Taps and Sequel to Drum-Taps, Whitman’s verse contemplates his experiences with the Civil War, and includes one of his most famous poems, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”

In this lesser-known poem, the speaker relates a story of walking through the woods in autumn and coming upon a soldier’s grave. The grave’s only marker is a hastily posted sign on a tree that reads, “Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.” Despite the anonymity of the fallen soldier, the impression of this scene remains with the speaker over the years, returning to the fore of his mind at unexpected moments.

Like most of Whitman’s other compositions, this poem exhibits a break from traditional meter and form. It adheres to no clear metric pattern, but instead uses the phrase as a unit and end-stops each line with some form of punctuation. The absence of rhyme and meter leaves room for conversational interjections and a casually flowing stream of phrases that lends the speaker the air of a solemn storyteller. At the end of both verses, the inscription on the grave appears, true to Whitman’s characteristic use of repetition in his poetry.

While “As Toilsome I Wander’d Virginia’s Woods” enshrines a particular moment, it is also expressive of Whitman’s general experience in the Civil War. In tending to the wounded, Whitman surely came to know the anonymous soldiers not as units that formed the numbered ranks of armies, but as real, tangible people. Although he cannot completely rescue the soldier from an anonymous death, the speaker of this poem attempts to acknowledge him as an individual, unknown though he may be. He remembers him just as those who buried him memorialized him, as a “bold, cautious, true . . . loving comrade,” carrying the memory of this fallen comrade with him through life.