In the long, sleepless watches of the night, A gentle face — the face of one long dead — Looks at me from the wall, where round its head The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light. Here in this room she died; and soul more white Never through martyrdom of fire was led To its repose; nor can in books be read The legend of a life more benedight. There is a mountain in the distant West That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines Displays a cross of snow upon its side. Such is the cross I wear upon my breast These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes And seasons, changeless since the day she died.
July 10, 1879.
Form: 1. "`Looking over one day,' says Mr.
Longfellow's biographer, `an illustrated book of Western scenery, his attention was arrested by a picture of that mysterious mountain upon whose lonely, lofty breast the snow lies in long furrows that make a rude but wonderfully clear image of a vast cross.
At night, as he looked upon the pictured countenance that hung upon his chamber wall, his thoughts framed themselves into the verses that follow.
He put them away in his portfolio, where they were found after his death." (Editor, p. 220.)~~~~Another version of the story:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's wife died tragically when an ember from the fireplace caught her dress on fire and burnt her so badly that she died a few days later.
Longfellow tried to put out the fire, and it is said that his face was so badly disfigured that he grew the familiar long beard to hide the scars.
Eighteen years later he was looking at a book with pictures of the far west and the mountains when he came across a picture much like the one reproduced here.
The poem that resulted is "The Cross of Snow," one of his most poignant and touching sonnets.