Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry: The Cross of Snow

Edited and introduced by Wesley McNair, Maine Poet Laureate

In 1861, Longfellow?s wife Frances died from the burns she suffered after an ember from the fireplace set her dress on fire. Some say Longfellow grew his beard to hide the scars that resulted from trying to put the fire out. In today?s poem he looks back on his wife?s death, eighteen years later.

The Cross of Snow by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
   A gentle face?the face of one long dead?
   Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
   The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
   Never through martyrdom of fire was led
   To its repose; nor can in books be read
   The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
   That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
   Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
   These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Public Domain. Reprinted from The Maine Poets, Down East Books, 2003. Questions about submitting to Take Heart may be directed to David Turner, Special Assistant to the Maine Poet Laureate, at poetlaureate@mainewriters.org or 207-228-8263.