Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Evening Star

The Cross of Snow

The Evening Star
Lo! in the painted oriel of the West, Whose panes the sunken sun incarnadines, Like a fair lady at her casement, shines The evening star, the star of love and rest! And then anon she doth herself divest Of all her radiant garments, and reclines Behind the sombre screen of yonder pines, With slumber and soft dreams of love oppressed. O my beloved, my sweet Hesperus! My morning and my evening star of love! My best and gentlest lady! even thus, As that fair planet in the sky above, Dost thou retire unto thy rest at night, And from thy darkened window fades the light.

*oriel: an oriel window projects from the wall and does not extend to the ground. Buildings in the Gothic Revival style often have oriel windows. *Hesperus: in Greek mythology, Hesperus is the Evening Star, the planet Venus in the evening. His Roman equivalent is Vesper. He is the son of the dawn goddess Eos (Roman 'Aurora'). Hesperus' father was Cephalus, a mortal.
First publication date in The Belfry of Bruges: 1845. This sonnet, addressed to his first wife Mary Storer Potter, is noticeable as being one of the very few love-poems among Longfellow's verses.


The Cross of Snow
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.


Longfellow's second wife, Frances "Fanny" Appleton, died tragically 
when an ember from the fireplace put her dress in a blaze. Longfellow 
tried to put out the fire and was burnt also. His face was so badly 
disfigured that he grew the familiar long beard to hide the scars. 
Eighteen years after the tragic accident he was looking at a book 
with pictures of the far west when he came across a picture* that 
inspired him. The poem that resulted is "The Cross of Snow", one 
of his rare love-sonnets.
*The photographer William Henry Jackson took the picture in question 
in the mountains of Colorado in 1873. The photo became famous 
and the mountain was named "Mountain of the Holy Cross".


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© Gaston D'Haese: 26-09-2012.
Update: 17-07-2017.