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John Greenleaf Whittier and "Snow-Bound"

Updated on October 6, 2017
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Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

John Greenleaf Whittier


Brief Bio of Whittier

Born December 17, 1807 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, John Greenleaf Whittier became a crusader against slavery as well as a noted and celebrated poet. He enjoyed the works of Robert Burns and was inspired to emulate Burns.

At age nineteen, Whittier published his first poem in the Newburyport Free Press, edited by the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Whittier and Garrison became life-long friends. Whittier’s early work reflected his love for the country life, including nature and family.

Founding Member of the Republican Party

Despite the pastoral and at times sentimental style of his early poetry, Whittier became an ardent abolitionist, publishing pamphlets against slavery. In 1835 he and fellow crusader George Thompson narrowly escaped with their lives, driving through a barrage of bullets while on a lecture campaign in Concord, New Hampshire.

Whittier served as a member of the legislature of Massachusetts from 1834–35; he also ran for the US Congress on the Liberty ticket in 1842 and was a founding member of the Republican Party in 1854.

The poet published steadily throughout the 1840s and 1850s, and after the Civil War devoted himself exclusively to his art. He was one of the founders of The Atlantic Monthly.

"Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl"

Whittier is best known for his poem, "Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl," which depicts the activities of his family during a snow storm. The charm of the poem captivates the reader and shows the beauty that Whittier was able to relate.

This poet had faith and an inner vision that rendered him capable of dramatizing in a profound way the experiences of life. He saw everything as sparks from the Divine; he was able to portray the beauty and value in things and experiences that we often miss because of our basic insecurity and lack of faith or unwillingness to look for the good and the beautiful in nature and circumstances.

"Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl" is a long poem of 759 lines. It was first published as a single volume in 1866, and it immediately became very popular. In his introduction, Whittier writes, “The inmates of the family at the Whittier homestead, who are referred to in the poem, were my father, mother, my brother and two sisters, and my uncle and aunt both unmarried. In addition, there was the district schoolmaster who boarded with us.”

Favorable Reviews

"Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl" was greeted with many favorable reviews that focused on the simplicity and power of Whittier’s writing. The reviewer for The North American Review opined,

We are indebted again to Mr. Whittier, as we have been so often before, for a very real and very refined pleasure. It is true to nature and local coloring, pure in sentiment, quietly deep in feeling, and full of those simple touches that show the poetic eye and the trained hand.

This review eloquently captures the essence of "Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl."

Contemporarily Out of Favor With the Obtuse

Whittier’s works have fallen out of favor with contemporary poetry critics, scholars and some readers who place too much undeserved value on shock and degradation, and that’s too bad because reading "Snow-Bound" is a pleasurable, as well as enlightening, experience.

I highly recommend it. Have a cup of hot chocolate to keep you warm, while you enjoy Whittier’s description of all that snow.

Reading of Whittier's "Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl"

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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