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The Contributions of “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl” to American Literature

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In the nineteenth century, following the devastating American Civil War, author John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a lengthy poem designed to solve both personal and national problems. Whittier hoped that his poetry could stitch together the festering wounds left by the Civil War. While composing his work, Whittier realized that a reminder of good times from the past would assist his fragile country in its reconstruction; his poem “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl” became the vehicle through which he achieved this goal. In particular, Whittier focuses in “Snow-Bound” on addressing his life in context, as well as on the issue of how the lessons of his youth apply to his country. He describes his early life, the issues of his family and memories, the contributions of nature to his literature, and, finally, his hope for the poem’s readers, which causes a fascinating response. Together, these attributes forever molded the United States as a nation.

First, Whittier addresses his early life by discussing personal issues, the purpose of his life, and experiences on the farm of his boyhood. For example, he was “grief-stricken at the death of his younger sister” (Levine 653). The loss of “our youngest and our dearest” led Whittier to a reason to continue enduring; he placed all of his initiative into the composition of “Snow-Bound” (line 396). When critics awarded him with critical acclaim, there is no doubt that he felt vindicated. Also, Whittier substituted “for Slavery’s lash the freeman’s will” (line 499). With debate over the slavery issue gone, Whittier no longer seemed forced to bear guilt for the inaction that his Quaker heritage had required. The writer became able to reminisce about the past without becoming consumed by it. Next, Whittier ...

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... fate; / still achieving, still pursuing, / learn to labor and to wait” (lines 33-6). If humans can remember the mistakes from long ago and simply labor for a better tomorrow, Whittier’s message will have achieved its holy purpose, and Longfellow’s words will be the norm in American society.

Works Cited

Levine, Robert. “John Greenleaf Whittier.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Seventh Shorter Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008. 652-3. Print.

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “A Psalm of Life.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Seventh Shorter Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008. 645-6. Print.

Whittier, John Greenleaf. “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Seventh Shorter Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008. 654-70. Print.
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