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The Snow Storm Analysis

Author: poem of Edna St. Vincent Millay Type: poem Views: 7

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No hawk hangs over in this air:
The urgent snow is everywhere.
The wing adroiter than a sail
Must lean away from such a gale,
Abandoning its straight intent,
Or else expose tough ligament
And tender flesh to what before
Meant dampened feathers, nothing more.
Forceless upon our backs there fall
Infrequent flakes hexagonal,
Devised in many a curious style
To charm our safety for a while,
Where close to earth like mice we go
Under the horizontal snow.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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In the poem “The Snow Storm”, by Edna St. Vincent Millay, the rigid structure, diction, figurative language about power, and helpless imagery show the insignificance and vulnerability of human existence in comparison to larger forces. In this poem Millay also shows that humans have only survived because they have been protected. The lyrical and vulnerable tone created by the rhythm and diction of the poem also emphasizes this. Humans are shown to be small and powerless “like mice” (line 13) and easy prey for a predator with a “wing adroiter than a sail” (line 3) unless protected by “The horizontal snow” (line 14).
The structure of this poem, its diction, and imagery show the lyrical and vulnerable tone. Every two lines rhyme; for example “No hawk hangs over in this air:/ The urgent snow is everywhere.” Alliteration is seen in the line “No hawk hangs” (line 1) and “dampened feathers, nothing more,/ Forceless” (lines 8-9). Almost every line has seven syllables which, along with the alliteration and structure of the poem gives it a rhythmic and song-like sound. This makes it flow and fall quickly like the descending snow. Words with fearful connotations such as “urgent” (line 2), “abandoning” (line 5), and “devised” (line 11) make the tone more pessimistic while “gale” (line 4), “expose” (line 6), and “forceless” (line 9) give the time a sense of danger. The imagery in this poem is about conflict. “The urgent snow” which “is everywhere” (line 2) forces the hawk to “lean away from such a gale” (line 4) or it “will expose tough ligament/ And tender flesh” (lines 6-7) to the force of the snow storm. This tone expresses humanity’s incredible vulnerability.
The diction in this poem shows the insignificance and lack of power of humanity. The hawk’s “wing adroiter than a sail” (line 3). This shows how powerful the hawk is in comparison its prey. Words such as “expose” (line 6) and “forceless” (line 9) give a sense of lack of safety and lack of power of the humans. The snow is able to “charm our safety for a while” (line 12) but the word “while” (line 12) makes it clear that it will not always be there to protect against the predator. This creates uncertainty and the feeling of not being in power which is also mirrored in the tone. Humans are “close to earth” (line 13) similarly to “mice” (line 13). The word “mouse” is associated with small size and insignificance, so this simile comparing humans to mice makes humans seem just as small and powerless.
The several instances of figurative language throughout this poem contribute to the lyrical aspect of the tone and show the power of the snow storm. The couplet “No hawk hangs over in this air:/ The urgent snow is everywhere” (lines 1-2) is the opening of the poem. The alliteration seen when Millay says that “No hawk hangs” in the sky also creates a sound of rhythm that is carried out through the rest of the poem. The rhythm in this poem is significant because it makes the poem flow unstoppably quickly. The personification of the “urgent snow” (line 2) is also significant because by giving it human qualities, the snow becomes a powerful force with a human-like willpower. The snow is also referred to as “Infrequent flakes hexagonal” (line 10). This metonymy emphasizes the characteristics of the snow by calling it by its distinguishing features instead of its name. Humans are said to continue on their existence “like mice” (line 13). This simile highlights the insignificance of humanity by comparing humans to mice, who are viewed as mundane creatures only interested in survival and procreation.
The highly structured format of this poem also represents how powerless humans are. This poem is a sonnet written completely in iambic tetrameter which means each line has four iambic feet. Each pair of lines rhyme which makes one line flow into the next. The lyrical tone that Millay creates continues to move the poem forwards and makes it unstoppable. The force of the poem is great in comparison to that of the humans.
The imagery in this poem also contributes to the meaning by creating images that are associated with lack of control. The hawk is forced to abandon its hunting expedition out of fear of exposing “tender flesh to what before/ Meant dampened feathers, nothing more” (lines 7-8). Although the hawk is a predator, it is powerless against the inclement weather. The snow is able to “charm our safety for a while” (line 12), however, the “Infrequent flakes hexagonal” (line 10) are the only protection from the hawk. Predator and prey alike are often helpless in the face of larger and more powerful forces. The snow-flakes fall “Forceless upon our backs” (line 9) while humans continue to live “close to earth like mice we go/ Under the horizontal snow.” (lines 13-14). Millay shows the reader that humans are oblivious to the danger that they are in and only reason humanity has survived because it has been protected.
Millay’s poem’s structured format, diction, figurative language, and helpless imagery show, even though they are oblivious to it, how powerless and vulnerable humans are. They have survived because of the protection from others. The lyrical and unsafe tone created by the word choice and the iambic tetrameter also helps support this by making the poem sound more fearful, relentless, and fluid. Throughout the poem, these literary techniques cause the reader to feel “expose[ed]” (line 6) and vulnerable. This is what Millay is trying to argue, although humans believe that they are powerful and safe, they only have “safety for a while” (line 13) and they do not have as much control over the world as they think.

| Posted on 2012-03-29 | by a guest

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