The Poems of Robert Frost | Study Guide

Robert Frost

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The Poems of Robert Frost | Dust of Snow | Summary



A man walks in winter woods, feeling some unspecified regret. The rueful speaker is under a hemlock tree when a crow's movement dusts him in snow. Refreshed, the speaker takes heart and experiences a lifting of his spirits, a reprieve from his regret.


This lyrical eight-line poem was collected in New Hampshire (1923) after being published in two magazines. It is driven by oppositions. The diction and images evoke death, the meter is lively yet controlled, and the lyrical content is healing.

The poem exemplifies Frost's use of tension between form, his language choices, and content, the narrative about the crow, the snow dust, and the rueful speaker. The black crow sits above, perhaps ominous as a sign or image, and the man stands below. "Dust" is not an idiosyncratic noun in this poem since weathercasters, using idiomatic English, will report a dusting of snow. Still, "snow dust" is an oxymoron. Dust is dry and not conventionally cold, while snow is wet and cold.

Furthering the poem's tension, the hemlock plant is the source of the poison Socrates used for his suicide. To many readers then, hemlock evokes death by poison. The crow is also associated with death, a belief from Celtic mythology, as is winter. The rhyming words at the end of the first and third lines, "crow" and "snow," create contrasts as well. One is black, the other white; one is a sign of death and the other, the result of an animal's natural movement.

One reading of the dusting of snow is to consider it a sort of baptism in the woods, a secular sacrament. It could also be an intimation of mortality, a shower of dust, echoing the biblical quote "dust you are and to dust you will return." Also, some part of the speaker's rueful day has been "saved"—another word with religious resonance.

The poem thus courts the sort of double meaning that Frost frequently pursues. Relief from a rueful day comes in the small sacrament of the gentle dusting of snow. The thoughtless, impudent gesture of the crow creates a lyric moment in the winter woods. Thoughts of his own mortality bring the speaker back from regret to a more positive view of life.

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