Summary of Dust of Snow
The poem ‘Dust of Snow’ by Robert Frost is simple and short, yet with a deeper and larger meaning. The poet explains how an act as petty or as simple as experiencing snow on one’s body can brighten one’s day. The two agents of nature, the hemlock tree and the crow are signifiers of sadness and gloom.
The poet was having a terrible day and was in a bad mood. He was standing near a hemlock tree which was poisonous. A crow which must have perched upon the snow-laden hemlock tree happened to sprinkle some snow dust on him. The falling of the snow on his head lifted his mood instantly and his sad and depressive mood changed into an elated one due to the crow and the hemlock tree.
Generally, poets choose beautiful birds and trees for their poems. The poet has chosen a crow rather than a skylark or a nightingale. The crow, a black, dark creature, has an evil foreboding and is a symbol of fear, doom and death.
The poet has also chosen hemlock tree in place of oak, pine or maple tree. Hemlock tree is associated with poison and death as hemlock was the poison used to kill the great philosopher Socrates.
However, the poet has cleverly used these symbols or bad omens to signify that inauspicious things can bring joy and happiness, too.
Thus the poem teaches us a lesson that we must not take things for granted but should be open and accept whichever way nature chooses to bless us.
• Nature has healing and curing power.
• Small events in a person’s life can have a larger significance.
• One should hope for the best even in the worst situations.
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
The poem is set in winters as there is snow on the tree. The poet is standing under the hemlock tree which is a poisonous tree having small white flowers. Coincidently, a crow sitting on the branch of the tree happens to shake it and some fine particles of snow dust from the tree fall on the poet. The crow’s specific action of shaking snow dust on the poet leaves the readers in doubt as it is not clearly mentioned whether the crow was preening, landing, shivering with cold or getting ready to fly off, but it just happened to throw some particles of snow upon the poet, unexpectedly. It is important to note that the hemlock tree and the crow are not merely the agents of nature but are also signifiers of sadness and gloom.
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
The poet, for reasons unknown, was having a terrible day. He had already spent his day in a bad mood but the rest of it was saved by the crow and the hemlock tree. His mood underwent a change from sadness to that of happiness and he found himself partially relieved due to the crow’s action of throwing snow dust on him. He felt that the remaining part of his day had been saved from getting wasted. Generally, hemlock tree and crow are used for negative references but the poet has used them beautifully to portray that inauspicious things can bring joy and happiness too. The crow, a harbinger of doom and fear, becomes a catalyst for positive change. Thus the message is clear enough. Sometimes seemingly insignificant natural events do bring about change. Being outdoors with nature, with all its unpredictability, can benefit anyone, anywhere at any time. A person can get relief even in the worst situation.
Rhyme scheme: abab
Alliteration: Has given my heart;
And saved some part
Assonance: The prominence of a vowel sound throughout a line is called assonance.
In stanza , line 2 – ‘shook down on me’ – ‘O’ Sound is prominent.
Symbolism: Hemlock tree is a symbol of death. The crow is also a symbol of bad luck and doom.
Irony: A contrast between reality and expectation; between what is said and what is actually meant; between what appears to be true and the real truth. The action of the crow shaking off the dust from the hemlock tree on the poet is ironical as it has uplifted his sad mood and saved his day from getting ruined.
Enjambment: When the sentence continues to the next line without the use of any punctuation marks, signifying the continuity of thought. It has been used in the entire poem.
Inversion: When the structure of a sentence is changed by the poet to create a rhyme, this poetic license is called inversion. An example of inversion can be seen in stanza 1.
Important Questions and Answers
1. How has the poet observed nature in the poem ‘Dust of Snow?
Ans. The poet has observed nature as having curative power. The poet had been the sorrowful and depressive mood in the poem. But then the way a crow shook snow dust off, it changed his mood. Nature gave him the inspiration to behave in a positive manner.
2. What is the underlying message for us in our hectic life with reference to the poem, ‘Dust of Snow?
Ans. In the poem ‘Dust of Snow,’ the poet wants to convey that sometimes moments or actions that are simple have a greater significance. They can change a person’s mood or life. The way the Crow shakes the dust of snow on the poet inspires him and gives him the idea to shake off his depressive thoughts, to be cheerful and to do something useful.
3. What side of nature do ‘crow and ‘hemlock’ represent?
Ans.’ Crow’ is a black, harsh-voiced bird, and ‘Hemlock’ is a tree with poisonous bitter fruit. Both of these are not beautiful. They represent the dark, depressive, sad and bitter side of nature.
4. Why does the poet use such poetically uncommon bird and tree? What does it reflect?
Ans. The poet seems to be in a depressed and sad mood. In that mood, one cannot think of the sweet and beautiful side of nature. The harsh, bitter, and poisonous images are coming to his mind. That’s why he uses an unusual, harsh, ugly crow and poisonous tree-like hemlock.
5. Justify the role of the crow in the poem “Dust of Snow” in changing the poet’s mood.
Ans. I think, ‘the way snow dust was shaken off,’ has changed his mood. It may have given the poet an inspiration/idea to behave in the same way—to shake off his depressive thoughts and to revive his cheerful mood.
6. What mood of the poet is reflected in the poem? How does it reflect?
Ans. The poem reflects the sad and depressive mood of the poet. The use of the bird ‘crow,’ which is ugly and harsh, and the hemlock tree, which is a poisonous plant, reflects the mood of the poet.
7. What did the poet think of the day before the dust of snow fell on him?
Ans. Before the fall of the dust of snow, the poet thought that his day was ruined. He poet was perhaps regretting over something. He was in a bad mood. But then the dust of snow fell on him. It signalled something good and joyful. His mood changed.
8. Write a note on the setting of the poem.
Ans. The poem presents a perfect setting. In the poem, there are four elements. All of these four elements match one another. The snow symbolises depression. The hemlock tree is a symbol of sorrow. The crow is deemed ominous. The poet’s mood was sad as well. But suddenly, the way the crow shook the hemlock tree and falling off the dust of snow switches the poet’s mood to positivity.
Dust of Snow Extra Question and Answers
Q1. What is a “dust of snow”? What does the poet say has changed his mood? How has the poet’s mood changed?
Answer. “Snow dust” refers to tiny particles of snow. The particles are so small that they are referred to by the poet as “dust.” The poet was in a sorrows mood – regretting something when particles of snow fell on him. This changed the mind of the poet instantly, and his day got a lot better.
Q 2. How does Frost present nature in this poem? The following questions may help you to think of an answer.
(i) What are the birds that are usually named in poems? Do you think a crow is often mentioned in poems? What images come to your mind when you think of a crow?
Answer. The birds such as nightingale, peacock and sparrow are more than often named in poems. Crows, unlike these birds, are often seen as indicators of doom and fear. They are often used in the case of negative references.
(ii) Again, what is “a hemlock tree”? Why doesn’t the poet write about a more ‘beautiful’ tree such as a maple, or an oak, or a pine?
Answer. Trees are also seen as powerful creatures that impart wisdom as they are too old. They release oxygen and absorb the carbon dioxide that is associated with the absorption of all negative energy. But some trees, too, are poisonous, like a hemlock tree. The poet doesn’t mention a more ‘beautiful’ tree, such as a maple, an oak or a pine tree, because he wants to indicate a sad scene. Being poisonous, the hemlock tree is considered to be bad, and so he refers to it.
(iii) What do the ‘crow’ and ‘hemlock’ represent — joy or sorrow? What does the dust of snow that the crow shakes off a hemlock tree stand for?
Answer: Both the crow and the hemlock are sorrows. Frost used both negative creatures (crow and hemlock) as the bearers of positivism and strength that transformed his day for the better. By not using birds such as sparrow and nightingale and trees such as maple, oak or pine, the poet has tried to break down all the preconceived notions that we have about certain agents of nature. He’s been trying to make us understand that we do not see the world as to how it is, but as how we want to see it. As a result, the crow sitting and the hemlock tree together made his day better. Snow dust stands for joy.