James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell was an American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside Poets, a group of New England writers who were among the first American poets who rivaled the popularity of British poets.

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Poems by
James Russell Lowell
The First Snowfall

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.

Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.

I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.

Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.

Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.

I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
The scar of our deep-plunged woe.

And again to the child I whispered,
“The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!”

Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.

Yussouf

A stranger came one night to Yussouf’s tent,

Saying, “Behold one outcast and in dread,

Against whose life the bow of power is bent,

Who flies, and hath not where to lay his head;

I come to thee for shelter and for food,

To Yussouf, called through all our tribes ‘The Good.’”

“This tent is mine,” said Yussouf, “but no more

Than it is God’s; come in, and be at peace;

Freely shalt thou partake of all my store

As I of his who buildeth over these

Our tents his glorious roof of night and day,

And at whose door none ever yet heard Nay.”

So Yussouf entertained his guest that night,

And, waking him ere day, said: “Here is gold,

My swiftest horse is saddled for thy flight,

Depart before the prying day grow bold.”

As one lamp lights another, nor grows less,

So nobleness enkindleth nobleness.

That inward light the stranger’s face made grand,

Which shines from all self-conquest; kneeling low,

He bowed his forehead upon Yussouf’s hand,

Sobbing: “O Sheik, I cannot leave thee so;

I will repay thee; all this thou hast done

Unto that Ibrahim who slew thy son!”

“Take thrice the gold,” said Yussouf, “for with thee

Into the desert, never to return,

My one black thought shall ride away from me;

First-born, for whom by day and night I yearn,

Balanced and just are all of God’s decrees;

Thou art avenged, my first-born, sleep in peace!”