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The Cross of Snow Versus Sea Canes

By: Wyatt Collins

A tombstone in Ireland reads, “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love

leaves a memory no one can steal.” By reading this quote, one can insinuate that the

death of a loved one brings immense grief. This is the grief that is illustrated in romantic

poems, such as “Sea Canes” and “The Cross of Snow”. The purpose of this essay is to

compare and contrast the capital differences between the two poems. The three main

differences between “Sea Canes” and “The Cross of Snow” are symbolism,

attitude/tone, and theme.

The most conspicuous elements of the poems are their tendency to use symbolic

language. Imagery and symbolic language is used by both authors, but the author of

“Sea Canes” tends to use it more frequently. In this poem, the symbol of sea canes

represents his inner strength and something stronger emerging from what the death of

his companions has left behind. The sea canes seemingly evolve from his grief into a

newfound hope. These new and improved canes have a “rational radiance of stone,”

which means that they are aware of a new happiness that endures for all eternity; an

“enduring moonlight,” which means that they can last forever; “further than despair,”

which means that they are out of reach of sorrow; and as “strong as the wind,” which

means that they are impenetrable and indestructible. Earth represents the inner-

workings of the mind which are connected with a higher being or a symbol for the

creation of life. The earth tries to appeal to his reason from the inside, which is what

one’s conscience often does. When the author states that he “...cannot walk on the
moonlit leaves of ocean down that white road...” he is probably referring to the moon’s

reflection on the small ocean ripples that look a little like leaves and the line is possibly

symbolic to the pathway to heaven. When the author expresses that he also cannot

“...float with a dreaming motion...” he is perhaps envisioning the spirits as flying through

the air. He describes this floating sensation in connection with owls, birds commonly

associated with night time, which soar without a “load”. The last lines, “…that through

dividing canes brings those we love before us, as they were, with faults and all, not

nobler, just there,” provide assurances and "through the dividing canes" most likely

means through time. On the other hand, Longfellow has a more limited role in the use

of symbolism, but still has a noteworthy message. The cross of snow in the mountain is

"sun-defying," Longfellow says, meaning it does not melt. Longfellow also mentions that

he wears a similar "cross" on his breast, where his heart is, symbolizing his permanent

love for his lost wife. The cross means that Longfellow's love is unchanging; despite

losing her and despite the way the world is changing. Alternatively, this is a love poem;

therefore, it would make sense that the mountain is a symbol of grief. However, it is

more likely that the line that describes a cross on his chest is a symbol of his grief.

Therefore, the mountain seems to symbolize the martyrdom of his loved one. These

elements of the poem reflect the writer's views and give the writings a foundation for the

other elements of the narrations.

The subsequent building block the writer’s used in their poems was the

contrasting tones or attitudes they address to the reader. Unlike their use of symbolism,

this element seems to be very similar in both of their writings, although there are some
microscopic distinctions between the two. For instance, in the opening of “Sea Canes”

Walcott emphasizes the characters’ feelings of gloom, bereavement for his friends,

anger towards “earth”, and desperation for hope. The first instance of gloom was in the

first line with the author stating "Half my friends are dead...". He emits feelings of loss

as he cries for his friends "No, give me them back, as they were...". As the plot unfolds

he seems to give an attitude of yearning to be with his friends and comes to the

realization with himself that, "...out of what was lost grows something stronger" and that

his friends will always be in his heart. This tone is a bit diverse from the feelings that

are emitted in “The Cross of Snow”. This poem, on the contrary, does not teach a

lesson, but emphasizes more on the characters mourning for his wife and later reveals

emotions of permanent love and devotion to his wife. He emphasizes that she is always

on his mind when stating "In the long, sleepless watches of the night..." and shows that

his love is impenetrable when comparing the cross on his chest to the mountain cross

as he states, "...Such is the cross I wear upon my breast...". The main similarity is they

both seem gloomy in the beginning and emit feelings of bereavement, agony, and

loneliness. The theme of the writer's poems confers emotions of gloominess and end in

feelings of hope as they teach a lesson about life.

Equally, if not more important, both writer’s have an important theme to disclose

which conjure what the main point of their writings are. Their themes are different, yet

they have the same eminence. The theme of “Sea Canes” presumably, is that the loss

of loved ones and the grief obtained by their death gives way to hope the sooner it is

realized that the tides of life cannot be altered, meaning that destiny is not for humans
to decide. The main lesson to be learned is in the last lines.

"...but out of what is lost grows something stronger

that has the rational radiance of stone,

enduring moonlight, further than despair,

strong as the wind, that through dividing canes

brings those we love before us, as they were,

with faults and all. not nobler, just there."

The main theme is that everyone's time will come and if a person realize that their

friends are with them in their heart, it ultimately makes them a stronger, better person.

Contrastingly, “The Cross of Snow” gives a theme in the quote "...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" in which the writer explains his

permanent love and commitment to his wife, even though she died. Their themes are

similar in that they both exemplify that it is okay to love someone after they die but they

also edify not that everyone is mortal and that grief will not bring them back. They

illustrate that the best thing to do when someone dies is to move on because sadness

doesn't help and moving on will only make a person stronger.

The three main differences between “Sea Canes” and “The Cross of Snow” are

symbolism, attitude/tone, and theme. “Sea Canes” and “The Cross of Snow” have

many contrasting elements and differences. However, they both showed the anguish
and love a person feels when their loved ones are lost. Furthermore, both writers were

intelligent and emitted a feeling appropriate for the types of poems they created and the

result is that their poems became well-known in literature. Without these infamous

writers there would be a major piece of knowledge and history missing in today’s

society. Both poems were different in their ways, but they were overall worth reading. In

conclusion, the contrasting views and similarities of the two poems exemplified the

meaning of love and taught a valuable lesson. Hopefully they will give a good example

for young poets to go off of and express their own thoughts and feelings.