In ‘To the First Snowdrop’ Naden personifies the plant in a way that was completely resisted in the preceding poem, ‘To a Hyacinth in January’. As the ‘sunny-hearted child’ of ‘mother Earth’ the snowdrop demonstrates fortitude in the face of winter storms. Perhaps this conception of the snowdrop arises from Naden’s apparent connection with nature from an early age – in the Memoir of 1891 a friend remembers her ‘“talks” with the trees, birds, and butterflies’, alluded to in Naden’s poem ‘Six Years Old’.
Despite this difference in framing, similar themes reappear as she describes the transitioning from winter to spring, from bulb to bud, however another transition is also introduced, the movement from longing to fulfilment. This third element is brought in with the shift in focus at the volta, as is usual in a sonnet. We therefore move from focused description of the flower and the season, to a reflection upon life and love. Imagery is repeated from the previous stanza – tears, blossoms, buried – but put in an alternative context whereby the budding snowdrop becomes a metaphor for burgeoning love.
The idea of growth and development is central to Naden’s view of the world, but her re-use of certain images implies some unchanging essence too. This is most clearly shown by the shift in her description of the snowdrop. In the first line the ‘sunny-heart’ identifies the white flower’s bright yellow stamen as something joyful and bound to natural processes, whereas by the final line this same appearance has become a heart ‘lit with vestal fire’. It is therefore transformed into a kind of light and heat that has been harnessed by humans and serves a specific social function (specifically related to religion, gender roles, and class). I’d certainly be interested in discussing in the comments what you think Naden is suggesting here!
There is a further significance to this descriptive imagery, since the sun and fire underscore how light is an orientating concept for Naden. In the first line of the sestet she pairs ‘life and light’, the first-syllable rhyme cementing the words’ bond. There is of course a fundamental scientific truth in this, and Naden’s attachment to this model is a theme that I shall return to in future posts.