In the early part of the Civil War, one dark Saturday morning in the dead of winter, a young woman, twenty two years old, died at the Commercial Hospital, Cincinnati. She had once been beautiful and the pride of respectable parents. Highly educated and accomplished, she might have shone in the best society. But she was stubborn and wilful and would not listen to warning. She played with fire and called it “fun.” One day she awoke to find herself ruined by a fatal mistake which she could not erase. She was fallen.
She spent the rest of her young life in disgrace and shame, and died poor and friendless, a broken hearted outcast. Among her personal effects was found in manuscript, the poem, “Beautiful Snow” which was immediately carried to Enos B. Reed, editor of the National Union. In the columns of that paper, on the morning following the girl’s death, the poem appeared in print for the first time. When the paper containing the poem came out on Sunday morning, the body of the victim had not yet received burial. The attention of Thomas Buchanan Read, one of the first American poets, was soon directed to the newly published lines, and was so taken with their stirring pathos, that he immediately followed the corpse to its final resting place.
Such are the plain facts concerning her whose “Beautiful Snow” will be long regarded as one of the brightest gems in American literature.
Oh! the snow, the beautiful snow,
Filling the sky and earth below,
Over the housetops, over the street,
over the heads of the people you meet.
Dancing – Flirting – Skimming along,
Beautiful snow, it can do no wrong.
Clinging to lips in frolicsome freak,
Trying to kiss a fair lady’s cheek,
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,
Cheering the heart and dispelling the gloom.
Chasing – Laughing – Hurrying by,
It lightens the face and sparkles the eye.
Rollicking dogs with a bark and a bound,
Snap at the crystals which eddy around.
The town is alive and its heart in a glow,
To welcome the coming of beautiful snow!
How wildly the crowd goes swaying along,
Hailing each other with humor and song,
How gay are the sleighs, like the stars flashing by,
Are bright for a moment, then lost to the eye.
Ringing – Swinging – Dashing they go,
Over the crest of the beautiful snow,
Snow that’s so pure when it falls from the sky,
That it makes one regret that it’s fated to lie,
And be trampled and muddied by thousands of feet,
’Till it blends with the horrible filth of the street.
Once I was pure as the snow, but I fell,
Fell like the snowflakes from heaven to hell;
Fell to be trampled as filth of the street,
Fell to be scoffed at, to be spit on and beat,
Pleading – Cursing – 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 charms of my face.
Father – Mother – Sisters – all,
God and myself I have lost by my fall.
The vilest 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 so pure as 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.
Fainting – Freezing – Dying alone,
Too wicked for prayer, too weak for a moan,
To be heard in the streets of the crazy town,
Gone mad in the joy of the snow coming down!
To be and to die in my terrible woe,
With a bed and a shroud of the beautiful snow.
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.
Groaning – Bleeding – Dying for thee,
The Crucified hung on the cursed tree,
His accents of mercy fall soft on thine ear.
“Is there mercy for me? Will He heed my weak prayer?”
O God! in the stream that for sinners did flow,
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.