Boston & Books: Part 2 – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Old Manse

I just love it when different parts of my life intersect. Kismet. Synergy. Awesomeness. For example, during my tour of Boston and the surrounding areas a month ago, I came across this little house just

outside of Concord called the Old Manse. Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne lived and wrote there, with Henry David Thoreau and Walden Pond a stone’s throw away (serious, just a couple hundred feet from the house). And then this week in my Writing Technical and Scientific Prose class we are reading American nature poetry. Wonder or wonders, on of the selected poets is Ralph Waldo Emerson. Better yet, the poem we are supposed to analyze is “The Snow-Storm” which fortuitously fits in with this week’s first snow of the season (at least at my house). You see? Serendipity. So today’s edition of Boston & Books is about Emerson.

So, as I said, I more or less stumbled across the Old Manse while visiting the Old North Bridge where “the shot heard around the world” was…well…heard. Consequently, Emerson coined that little phrase immortalized on the memorial at the bridge:

Old North Bridge

“By the rude bridge that

arched the flood.

Their flag to April’s

breeze unfurled.

Here once the embattled

farmer’s stood.

And fired the shot heard

round the world.”

You see, the bridge is literally 500 feet from the Emerson homestead, where Emerson’s grandparents watched the British and American soldiers line up across the river. years later, Emerson wrote Nature there, spurring the Transcendental Movement. Finally the house was named Old Manse from some short stories Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote while in residence.

“The Snow-Storm”

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,

Walden Pond

Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,

Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air

Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,

And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.

The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet

Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit

Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed

In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind’s masonry.

Out of an unseen quarry evermore

Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer

Curves his white bastions with projected roof

Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.

Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work

So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he

For number or proportion. Mockingly,

On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;

A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;

Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,

Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and, at the gate,

A tapering turret overtops the work.

And when his hours are numbered, and the world

Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,

Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art

To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,

Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,

The frolic architecture of the snow.

I love the imagery in this poem, the way it personifies snow and makes it an artist. Isn’t part of the glory of snow the way it changes an ordinary world into something different and extraordinary, dulling edges and augmenting details until you see something in a new way? It’s a refreshing way to look at not just the physical world, but life in general. And for me, snow heralds Christmas, magic, family, laughter, and joy.

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