Analysis of death in Fireside Poetry.
| All poetry abounds with rich symbolism, providing the reader with insight into the poet’s personal views on matters that may not be directly mentioned in a poem. Certain timeless themes, such as death, can be represented by a variety of natural symbols, such as the ocean, or snow. The characteristics of these symbols equate to properties of death, including its ability to erase, and to hide; however, there are also significant differences in the perspectives of death that each symbol offers.
In the poem “The First Snowfall,” the poet, James Russell Lowell, closely links snow with death by using snow as a means of reminding the characters of a tragedy which had occurred in the past. A father, watching the snow, recalls his daughter’s grave in Auburn, which is now covered by the snow. In this poem, snow, as a symbol of death, covers and silences all that lies beneath it. The father tells his daughter that “the merciful Father / Alone can make it fall!”(ll 35-36). This line reveals a poignant truth about Lowell’s beliefs. If snow is a symbol of death, then Lowell is stating that only God has the ability to take life away. Snow’s ability to hide what is underneath it offers different perspectives on death. In one sense, the snow masks the tragic death from view, which may relive the resulting grief or suffering. On the other hand, the snow literally, and figuratively, puts more distance and impediment between the father and his lost daughter.
Several elements in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” suggest that the tide represents death. “The sea sands damp and brown”(l 3) symbolize the time near the end of a person’s life because the sand is the symbol of time. The sand that is closest to the ocean is damp because it has already begun to be infiltrated by the tide of death. The tide’s quality of wiping away is symbolic of death’s ability to erase a memory from the sands of time. The cyclical nature of the rise and fall of the tide also characterizes the cyclical nature of life and death. Life continues to move on and on, even after death has occurred. It never stops, in the same way that the tide never stops. The image of the tide wiping away footprints from the sand describes both a sadness and a comfort that comes with death. It is unfortunate that death wipes away a life from Earth. Yet, a person can still find comfort in death’s capability to efface from time the mistakes and failures of the past. The tide is a visual representation of death being called “the ultimate healing” because it can take away the pain and suffering of past experiences.
Both the snow and the tide share many qualities which make them both comparable to the theme of death, yet there are still differences between these images which may evoke different feelings from the audience. For example, Lowell and Longfellow both use snow and the tide, respectively, to hide a memory from view. The difference is that snow covers up a memory, rather than eliminating it, while the tide completely erases an entity from history. The tide certainly has a more cleansing connotation and even suggests an opportunity to start over, or rebuild without being held back by obstacles from the past. Most people would rather look at death as a cleansing experience that may inspire them to change their own lives or others’ lives, instead of seeing death as a tragedy that only conceals more sorrow underneath. The fact that snow and the tide are both such natural symbols implies an underlying truth about death. It is a completely natural occurrence. Death is just as inevitable as the snowfall or the tide of the ocean, which carry on, indifferent to the struggles of man.
Death is widely discussed topic in poetry due to its close relation to nature and its appeal to readers’ emotions. Likewise, it can easily be compared with many other symbols in nature such as snow and the rising and falling of the tide. Both Longfellow and Lowell capture the true essence of death as an inevitable and integral part of nature. Their views of death can cause a person to look at death as an event as beautiful and natural as crystal white snow.