Dust of Snow – by Robert Frost

Dust of Snow

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree


Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

              Robert Frost

About the author – Robert Frost

Robert Frost was born on March 26th, 1873 in San Francisco and died in January 29, 1963.  Frost mostly wrote about the life and landscape of New England. He avoided the poetic experiments of his time and was a poet of traditional verse forms and meter.  Frost, one of the best-known and most beloved American poets of the 20th century, won the Pulitzer Prize four times for New Hampshire (1924), Collected Poems (1931), A Further Range (1937), and A Witness Tree (1943).

Summary of Dust of Snow

The poem tells us about the poet’s experience when he realised that temporary sorrows of life are but minor things when compared to the magnitude of the wonders of nature.

The poet narrates an incident when he was feeling upset. As he was walking beneath a hemlock tree he received a sprinkling of snow which was the outcome of a crow’s movement on the tree. The effect of the drizzle of snow on the plaintive poet was a transformational one.

It shook the poet out of his gloom and he realised how minute and unimportant his adverse circumstances were as compared to the immense magnitude of the world of nature. This realisation changed the poet’s melancholic mood and he once again became his happy positive self.

This short poem narrating a simple incident has a deeper underlying meaning. Through this poem the poet tells us that preconceived notions about things are not always true. We associate negativity with a lot of things in life, but those are actually the makings of our mind. He uses the scavenger crow and the poisonous hemlock tree to point out that they are a part of nature and nature always has a curative and transformational effect on humans. A small incident in the lap of nature was enough to pull him out of his melancholic mood and bring him back to his original happy self.

Explanation of Dust of Snow

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

In the first stanza the poet describes how a crow which is taken to be a symbol of bad omen happened to shake down some snow from a hemlock tree on which it was perched. The hemlock tree which is a poisonous one is also associated with negativity just like the crow. This stanza simply mentions the two things in nature with which we have pre conceived notions of negativity happened to shake down dusts of snow, which symbolises positivity, on the despondent poet. 

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

The second stanza is a continuation of the incident that took place in the first stanza and tells us about the effect that the incident had on the poet. The drizzling of snow from the hemlock tree due to the presence of the crow was like a shower of positivity on the dejected mind of the poet. He has been sad for a part of the day and the dust of snow made him realise how vast nature was and it lifted his mood. He became happy and was saved from being unhappy for the rest of the day by the sprinkling of fresh snow due to the presence of the so called inauspicious crow on the hemlock tree.  

Literary Devices in Dust of Snow

Alliteration – Repetition of same consonant sound in consecutive or nearby words.

Has given my heart – ‘h’ sound has been repeated.

And saved some part –‘s’ sound has been repeated.

Assonance – Repetition of vowel sound in consecutive or nearby words.

Shook down on me – ‘o’ sound has been repeated

Enjambment – continuation  of a sentence to the next line. Here the entire poem is a continuous line.

Word meanings

hemlock: A poisonous plant (tree) with small white flowers

rued: held in regret

Question /Answers of ‘Dust of Snow’

1. What is a “dust of snow”? What does the poet say has changed his mood? How has the poet’s mood changed?

Ans. The fine particles of snow falling from the hemlock tree due to the crow’s movements on the hemlock tree are being referred to as ‘dust of snow’.

The poet says that he had been brooding or ruing over some matter till that time of the day when the he received the sprinkling of snow beneath the hemlock tree. His feeling of sadness vanished with the falling of snow on him as he became aware of the magnitude and beauty of nature. It made him realise how insignificant his own troubles were.

The crow and the hemlock tree are both considered to be symbols of negativity and doom. However, nature does not discriminate among its creations, and all creations are same for nature. The poet’s melancholic and despondent mood changed to that of positivity and bliss when the dust of snow fell on him from the hemlock tree.

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?

Ans. We usually find names of nightingale, dove, cuckoo, peacock, parrot, sparrow and the like in most poems. They are represented as symbols of beauty and positivity.

No, a crow is not usually mentioned in poems as they are considered to be inauspicious.

When I think of a crow, I think of it as a scavenger with a hoarse cry that is unpleasant to the ear. It brings dark images of grief and sorrow to my mind.

(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?

Ans. A hemlock tree is a poisonous tree with white flowers. It is a pyramidal coniferous tree which is shadier than most conifers. Humans have attached a negative connotation with the tree owing to its poisonous nature.

The poet does not choose a more beautiful tree like the maple or oak due to two reasons.

  1. The hemlock tree aptly represents his sad and despondent mood.
  2. He wants people to shed their preconceived negative notions about things in nature.
(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?

Ans.  The ‘crow’ and the ‘hemlock’ both represent sorrow in the poem. The poet uses them to portray his depressive mood in the materialistic world.

The dust of snow represents positivity and optimism in the world of nature. The dust of snow symbolises natural joy that is inherent in man. The dust of snow that is shaken off by a crow on a hemlock tree represents the transition of the poet’s mood from a sorrowful and pessimistic one to that of joy and optimism.

3. Have there been times when you felt depressed or hopeless? Have you experienced a similar moment that changed your mood that day?

Ans. Yes, there has been numerous times when the feeling of hopelessness grasped me and made me feel depressed.

Once it was raining and I was feeling depressed in the gloomy atmosphere. I had been upbraided by my parents for not reaching up to their expectations. Life looked meaningless and I felt hopeless. Suddenly the sky cleared and a double rainbow decorated the sky. Birds started chirping after the shower and the entire atmosphere became joyful. A sudden surge of happiness filled my life and I realised that life was full of tides of joy and sorrow. Everything is transient and there was no need to feel unhappy or worry about anything for long.

Extra Questions of Dust of Show
Q. What is the rhyme scheme of ‘Dust of Snow’?

Ans. The rhyme scheme of ‘Dust of Snow’ is abab cdcd.

The poem has two quatrains of four lined stanzas. The entire poem is enjambed so that the two stanzas form a continuous sentence.

Q. What is the theme of ‘Dust of Snow’?

Ans. The theme of ‘Dust of Snow’ is the immense therapeutic and curative power of nature that has the power to heal both the mind and the body of humans. The poem emphasises how little things in nature can be catalysts of positive change.

Q. What is the message of ‘Dust of Snow’?

Ans. Through the poem ‘Dust of Snow’ the poet gives us the message that little things in nature can bring about huge positive changes in life. He also tells us that preconceived negative notions that we associate with certain things in nature is not always true. They are mere creations of our mind. Those very things are capable of bringing around positive transformations in life. As he himself says-

This poem presents a moment that seems simple, but has a larger significance.

 “Always, always a larger significance…

A little thing touches a larger thing.”