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The Snow-Man

Atlantic Monthly Cover

the first Atlantic Monthly cover from November, 1857

In honor of the sweltering weekend that Adele and I spent in Washington DC for the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference, a post about a man of ice…

WHEN I WAS LOOKING for a poem that Quinn could cut out from the paper and romantically secret onto Jennie’s picture, I turned to the venerable old Atlantic Monthly. Because I get pretty obsessive about historical accuracy, I wanted a magazine or newspaper that was actually in print at the time of the book. The Atlantic Monthly began in Boston in November of 1857, founded by such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and published first stories by Mark Twain and Henry James. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote dispatches from the front during the Civil War. The magazine still exists today, now called The Atlantic.

I found the poem “The Snow-Man” in  the May 1864 issue. The issue in its entirety can be found here. And here’s the whole poem, below. I couldn’t find the author, anywhere. Looking for “The Snow-man” only pulled up the much better known poem by the same name by Wallace Stevens. Adele eventually wowed me with her stellar googling skills and found the poet in question: a one C.J. Sprague.

I really love this poem, in all its rhyme-y creepiness. Love that a snowman is described as “a strange, misshapen image,” with “mouth agape and staring eyes,” and “monstrous limbs.” The poet talks about trying to embrace the snowman: “And the chill of his touch through your soul will creep.” This ain’t Frosty. I thought that it was an appropriately morbid and warped thing for Quinn to produce as a love-offering.

THE SNOW-MAN.

The fields are white with the glittering snow,
Save down by the brook, where the alders grow,
And hang their branches, black and bare,
O’er the stream that wanders darkly there;
Or where the dry stalks of the summer past
Stand shivering now in the winter blast;
Or where the naked woodlands lie,
Bearded and brown against the sky:
But over the pasture, and meadow, and hill,
The snow is lying, all white and still.
But a loud and merry shout I hear,
Ringing and joyous, fresh and clear,
Where a troop of rosy boys at play
Awaken the echoes far away.
They have moulded the snow with hand and spade,
And a strange, misshapen image made:
A Caliban in fiendish guise,
With mouth agape and staring eyes,

And monstrous limbs, that might uphold
The weight that Atlas bore, of
Like shapes that our troubled dreams distress,
Ghost-like and grim in their ugliness;
A huge and hideous human form,
Born of the howling wind and storm:
And yet those boyish sculptors glow
With the pride of a Phidias or Angelo.
Come hither and listen to me, my son,
And a lesson of life I’ll read thereon.
You have made a man of the snow-bank there;
He stands up yet in the frosty air:
Go out from your home, so bright and warm,
And throw yourself on his frozen form;
Wind him around with your soft caress;
Tenderly up to his bosom press;
Ask him for sympathy, love, and cheer;
Plead for yourself with prayer and tear;
Tell him you hope and dream and grieve;
Beg him to comfort and relieve:
The form that you press will be icy cold;
A frozen heart to your breast you hold,
That turns into stone the tears you weep;
And the chill of his touch through your soul will creep.
So over the field of life are spread
Men who have hearts as cold and dead,–
Who nothing of sympathy know, nor love,–
To whom your prayers would as fruitless prove
As those that you now might go and say
To the grim snow-man that you made to-day.
But soon the soft and gentle spring
The balmy southern breeze will bring;
The snow, that shrouds the landscape o’er,
Will melt away, and be seen no more;
The gladsome brook shall rippling run,
‘Neath the alders greening in the sun;
The grass shall spring, and the birds shall come,
In the verdant woodlands to find a home;
And the softened heart of your man of snow
Shall bid the blue violets blossom below.
Oh, let us hope that time may bring
To earth some sweet and gentle spring,
When human hearts shall thaw, and when
The ice shall melt away from men;
And where the hearts now frozen stand,
Love then shall blossom o’er all the land!

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—LB

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