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A Discussion of "The Snow Arrives After Long Silence" by Nancy Willard

Marie is a college student interested in horses, science, literature, human nature, '90s music, action movies, the outdoors, and baking.

Nancy Willard's “The Snow Arrives After Long Silence” tells of the gradual corruption of pristine and natural snow as it makes its way into the human environment.

Nancy Willard's “The Snow Arrives After Long Silence” tells of the gradual corruption of pristine and natural snow as it makes its way into the human environment.

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, snow is depicted as pure and heavenly when it first falls, but once on Earth, it is depicted as marred by society.

First Stanza

“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 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.

Second Stanza

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.

Third Stanza

The snow is compared to a risen loaf of bread at 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 that ruin 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.

Fourth and Final Stanza

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. The 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.

The Takeaway

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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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Comments

ReverieMarie (author) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama on October 16, 2012:

Thanks for the feedback! I tried to post the original poem in an earlier hub but was denied because it was not original content. I will try to find ways around that, though, or at least post a link. Thanks again! :)

Fiddleman on October 15, 2012:

A very well written and thought analyses of the poem. I had to search it on the web to read it for myself. Sharing the poem within your text would help others who read.