I remember this poem from a booklet published, I think, by John R. Rice back in the mid 1960s. At least, that’s when I bought it. [Actually, it was printed in 1952.] I was just looking for that booklet in all my stuff – kind of like an archaeological dig – but couldn’t find it. So I decided to try the Internet. Wow. (I remember thinking I really had something when I bought a new transistor radio for $8 as a teenager. They had just come out. Yeah, I know, “a ‘what’!?” All you youngsters out there!) Anyway, I was amazed at all the listings.
There are several versions of who actually wrote the poem. The main one seems to be that it was written by Joseph Warren (Whitaker?) Watson. It’s found among his published poems. Perhaps he did write it. I really don’t know. None of the sites I visited addressed the issue of differing views of authorship. The poem is written in the first person, and unless Watson had a really vivid imagination, I find it difficult to believe that he “dealt in shame for a morsel of bread.” It’s possible he wrote the last stanza of the poem.
A second viewpoint I found in trove.nla.gov.au article 13207292, which had a digital copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, June 23, 1870, which had an account of the death of a Major Sigourney, nephew of a famous poetess of that name. (I didn’t really intend this to be a term paper.) According to this article, he wrote the poem. The woman in the poem is his wife, who left him, and the newspaper story says she died in St. Louis.
That’s one thing about the internet, differing information on the same thing. One site has me as a she, which would be news to my mother. It also has the middle name of one of my sons as Donald, which would be news to him. But I digress….
The viewpoint that I remember about the poem I found in avisoland.blogspot, posted on March 26, 2011. Thank you. Briefly, here it is.
In the early part of the Civil War, a young woman of 22 or so died at the Commercial Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. She had once been beautiful, but a hard and dissolute life had written another story on what was once a fair countenance.
Among her belongings was found this poem. It was given to the editor of the National Union, where it was published for the first time. When the paper came out, the girl hadn’t yet been buried. A noted American author (some sites say Walt Whitman) was impressed with the poem and followed her to her burial.
There are some variations of the poem in the different websites. This is as I remember it. [And I did find the booklet of poems. Here it is as printed there.]
The Beautiful Snow
Oh! The snow, the beautiful snow,
Filling the sky and the earth below,
Over the housetops and over the street,
Over the heads of the people you meet.
Beautiful snow! It can do no wrong;
Flying to kiss a fair lady’s cheek,
Clinging to lips in frolicsome freak;
Beautiful snow from heaven above,
Pure as an angel, gentle as love!
Oh! The snow, the beautiful snow,
How the flakes gather and laugh as they go
Whirling about in maddening fun,
It plays in its glee with everyone:
It lights on the face and it sparkles the eye;
And the dogs with a bark and a bound
Snap at the crystals as they eddy around;
The town is alive, and its heart is aglow,
To welcome the coming of beautiful snow.
How the wild crowd goes swaying along,
Hailing each other with humor and song;
How the gay sleighs like meteors flash by,
Bright for a moment, then lost to the eye:
Dashing they go,
Over the crest of the beautiful snow;
Snow so pure as it falls from the sky,
To be trampled in time by the crowd rushing by –
To be trampled and tracked by thousands of feet
Till it blends with the horrible filth in the street.
Once I was pure as the snow, but I fell,
Fell like a snowflake from heaven to hell;
Fell to be trampled as filth in the street,
Fell to be scoffed at, be spit on and beat;
Dreading to die,
Selling my soul to whoever would buy;
Dealing in shame for a morsel of bread,
Hating the living and fearing the dead.
Merciful God! Have I fallen so low?
And yet I was once like the beautiful snow!
Once I was fair as the beautiful snow,
With an eye like a crystal, a heart like its glow;
Once I was loved for my innocent grace –
Flattered and sought for the charm of my face!
Sisters – all,
God and myself I have lost by my fall;
The veriest wretch that goes shivering by,
Will make a wide sweep lest I wander too nigh.
For all that is on or above me I know,
There is nothing that’s pure but the beautiful snow.
How strange it should be that this beautiful snow
Should fall on a sinner with nowhere to go!
How strange it should be when the night comes again
If the snow and the ice struck my desperate brain!
Too wicked for prayer, too weak for a moan
To be heard in the crash of the crazy town,
Gone mad in the joy of snow coming down:
To be and to die in my terrible woe,
With a bed and a shroud of the beautiful snow.
The poem ended here.
Later, a Christian added the following:
Helpless and foul as the trampled snow,
Sinner, despair not! Christ stoopeth low
To rescue the soul that is lost in sin,
And raise it to life and enjoyment again.
Dying for thee,
The Crucified hung on the accursed tree!
His accents of mercy fall soft on thine ear,
There is mercy for thee; He will hear thy weak prayer:
“O God, in the stream that for sinners did flow,
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
So ended the original post. I suppose it’ll be “updated” to this form now. Oh, well. The thing is, perhaps you’re reading this for the first time, or even again, and you feel a little like the poor young woman who wrote the poem: abandoned and hopeless. So far as we know, though there are varying thoughts about it, this lady died without the Lord Jesus on that long-ago day. You, though, have an opportunity. The Lord says, “Come.” The Spirit says, “Come.” I say to you, “Come.” Come to the Lord Jesus, just as you are. You don’t have to dress up or clean up or shape up. He does all that. You just have to ‘fess up. With all your discouragement, your depression, your depravity, just come. “But,” you say, “You don’t know me, or what I’ve done.” That’s all right. He does. And He died for such as you, anyway. And me. He didn’t die for the “good” people; He died for sinners. That’s all you have to be to come to Him. Oh, that you might do it today. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.