The Weather in Our Emotions

Literature has played a huge part of America’s past. Through literature and specifically poetry, people have expressed their feelings, whether of jubilance or sorrow, which, in some way, has affected the history of this country. I will be comparing and contrasting the works of two poets, Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Russell Lowell. Emerson and Lowell both lived in regions of the United States that received an abundance of snow during the winter season, which shows in Emerson “The Snowstorm” and Lowell’s “The First Snowfall”. But even though in their poems, they wrote about snow, both poems are unique because they were written by poets with different life experiences and different points of view.

Emerson’s tone of his poem “The Snowstorm” is optimistic and positive, “the frolic architecture of the snow”, even though snow is usually an inconvenience for many people. Lowell uses “The First Snowfall” to mourn his daughter, resulting in a melancholy tone to his poem. He also expresses how natural events can remind of sorrow and help to heal it, “Flake by flake, healing in hiding/the scar that renewed our woe”.
Both Emerson and Lowell use figurative language in their poems, but Emerson uses personification and Lowell uses similes. Emerson personifies the snow as being an artist, shaping the surroundings and painting them white, “the fierce artificer/Curves his white bastions with a projected roof”. Lowell uses similes in his poem when describing the birds he sees, likening them to brown leaves, “and the sudden flurries of snow-birds/like brown leaves swirling by”.

Both poets use imagery to appeal to the senses, but the differences are that Emerson uses imagery to appeal to the sense of hearing when he describes the snowstorm as being “Announced by all the trumpets of the sky”. Emerson describes the snow as having a “swan-like form”, which causes the reader to visualize the white delicacy of the snow. Lowell uses imagery to help the reader understand what the father in the poem is feeling, “and thought of the leaden sky/that arched o’er our first great sorrow/when that mount was heaped so high”.
The different effects of their poems are a result of their personal lives. Emerson was part of the Transcendentalism literary movement, which may explain why his poem was nature-themed and optimistic. Lowell was in the category of Fireside poets, but also Romanticism, which explains how he expressed his feelings in his poem and related how nature can help to heal pain and sorrow.
The similarities between Emerson’s and Lowell’s lives are that they both attended Harvard University as teenagers and both became active abolitionists. At Harvard, they were both chosen as Class Poets. The differences between them are that Emerson was an average student, but Lowell was a poor student and couldn’t recite his original poem when he was elected class poet because he was suspended and was not allowed to participate.
In Lowell’s lifetime, he had lost three of his four children; the first three had died, but his last, Mabel, had lived. In his poem “The First Snowfall” he is remembering his first daughter’s burial.

An important point to remember is that even though some poets may come from the same regions and be a part of the same literary movement, doesn’t mean all of their poetry will be the same. People lead different lives and experience different things and expressed it differently in their poetry. Poetry expresses feelings, thoughts, and ideas, based on the author’s personal life experiences.


Compare/Contrast the Forms of a Mask

Have you ever seen the pictures of masks from ancient civilizations, such as Greece? In those times, actors in plays used to wear different masks to portray a certain emotion. Similarly, people use certain attitudes and expressions to mask or conceal, their true emotions. We have all hidden our emotions at one time or another. A person may portray a specific attitude, and people assume that quality or condition about that person when in reality, this is just a disguise. In many cases, things are not always as they seem, as in the poems “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar and “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson.

From the first line of “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the reader can see that there is a mask covering the true emotions of the people in the poem. Dunbar specifically points to the immense suffering of black people and the necessity of painting on a happy face as a survival tactic. He emphasizes that slaves, even though they may have seemed happy, they were suffering in reality. During his lifetime, Dunbar had certainly witnessed this period in history as one of the harshest for African-Americans. The poem cries out with the hurt that African-Americans have endured throughout history, “with torn and bleeding hearts we smile”, signifying that they were heartbroken but they smiled to hide, or mask, true emotions.
A person’s spirituality and faith in God can help them in the most painful, dreadful situations. In the lines “we smile, but, O great Christ, our cries/to thee from tortured souls arise”, it is evident that they depended on their God, and even when all else had failed, slaves could pray and feel that their God had heard them.

People are not always who they appear to be and people may seem to have it all but may be emotionally unstable. This statement basically summarizes the purpose of the poem “Richard Cory” by Robinson. In the poem, a man named Richard Cory appeared to have it all: good looks, a suave persona, and of respectable social status. In the first and third stanzas, Richard Cory is compared to a king or someone of high status. The people in the town admired him to the point where it was almost a shock when “he was always human when he talked”. The people looked up to him with envy to an extent, at what he had, “to make us wish that we were in his place”. Despite his apparent perfections, Richard Cory was still missing something in his life, because “one calm summer night,/Went home and put a bullet through his head”.

The difference in the two poems is in it’s focuses. In “We Wear the Mask” the focus was on black slaves and how they had to conceal their true emotions. The “mask” is a necessary survival procedure because no one could remediate this situation, and they had to rely on their faith in God to keep them going. In contrast, the people in “Richard Cory” never bothered to get to know Richard personally, so they just assumed he had a perfect life. Everyone was in awe and admiration of him, and he was in direct contrast to the people in the town. They were poorer, and may have gone hungry at times, whereas Richard Cory was the rich, graceful, well mannered gentleman who fluttered pulses when he talked and glittered when he walked.