What Is the Theme of “The Snowstorm” by Ralph Waldo Emerson?


Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “The Snowstorm” is about the power of nature, objectified by the storm, to create great beauty and do harm with indifference. Although the storm isolates and hides, when seen in the sunlight, the drifts and ice create great beauty. This allows people to transcend the physical through the philosophical to the beauty of the universe, which is that of Nature and the Soul.

Emerson’s “The Snowstorm” is exemplary of American Transcendentalism, which holds that people have knowledge about themselves and the world that transcends the information they take in through the senses. As the leader of American Transcendentalism, Emerson held that his central doctrine was “the infinitude of the private man.” According to Transcendentalism, this knowledge in American philosophy comes not from logic but out of imagination and intuition. This position was a reaction against European philosophy and in celebration of American individualism and self-reliance. A hard-headed New Englander, Emerson also believed in solid common sense, and he combines these elements in “The Snowstorm.” He depicts people who have the good sense to shelter during the storm, the imagination to see beauty in its aftermath and the intuition to understand how they and the storm and Nature and the Soul are all interconnected. One of the major tenets of Transcendentalism is that people are inherently good and can therefore trust their own judgment about what is good and right.