Mrs. Banks, our teacher, required all of us eighth graders to memorize a poem. She said that someday, many years later, we would recall the poem and it would bring strength to our spirits. The poem I memorized was “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost. Nearly all of us chose that poem to memorize. Why? Because it was the shortest one we could find. Here is the poem:
Dust of Snow
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
The hemlock tree is a literary symbol for death. The ancient Greeks used hemlock to poison condemned prisoners. The most well-known victim of hemlock was the Greek philosopher Socrates. The poem’s setting of winter speaks too of desolation and lifelessness.
The image of dust also recalls our mortality. Our faith reminds us that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. Crows are large black birds. They are raucous and eat dead flesh. That also is a bleak and ominous image.
So, we have a contradiction. In this accursed graveyard-like moment, some gift or inspiration comes from above, unexpectedly and fortuitously, to the speaker of the poem and lifts his spirit. In an instant, within a day that the speaker “had rued,” there is a reversal. A little death is overcome. New strength and life comes to the spirit. Everything is different now.
Thank you, Mrs. Banks. You were right.
Persevere through these dark days of winter. Pay attention to the movements of your spirit. Watch how God speaks to you and gives you reason to hope – in Jesus, through a contemplative life of prayer, to overcome the dying.