Thursday, May 17, 2012

May 17: Longfellow, "The Cross of Snow," New Book

So, I've began working on a new book of poems.  I will give you a first sample from it tomorrow afternoon.  Today, I want to talk about a poem I love.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the sonnet "The Cross of Snow" eighteen years after the death of his second wife.  His second wife died as the result of severe burns.  In some accounts, she was sealing some envelopes with wax.  The envelopes contained clippings of hair from the Longfellow children.  A spark landed on her dress, and, when Longfellow came to her rescue, she was completely engulfed in flames.  Longfellow threw a rug over her to put out the fire, in the process severely injuring his hands and face.  (That's why Longfellow always had a long, white beard and moustache--to hide his scars.)  Longfellow's wife died within a day or so after the fire.

Eighteen years later, Longfellow wrote the poem below.  It's beautiful and heartbreaking.

Saint Marty hopes you love it as much as he loves it.

The Cross of Snow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face--the face of one long dead--
Looks at me from the wall, where 'round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.

Here in this room she died, and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.

There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.

Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

H. W. Longfellow

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