Snow by Mary Mapes Dodge

Watch the original poem "Snow" by Mary Mapes Dodge (1831-1905) into ASL (American Sign Language) translated in 2009. In additon, there is also a tutorial on grammar below.


Little white feathers, filling the air --
Little white feathers! how came ye there?
"We came from the cloud-birds sailing so high;
They're shaking their white wings up in the sky."

Little white feathers, how swift you go!
Little white feathers, I love you so!
"We are swift because we have work to do;
But hold up your face, and we'll kiss you true."

Poem by Mary Mapes Dodge
Rhymes and Jingles, 1875.

Tutorial: learn ASL grammar

Start with the title introduced in ASL. There are two ways of introducing the title of a poem or story.

Title: snow

The most common way is to sign the "quotation marks" and then the title.

The other way as illustrated in the video clip above is to sign the title along with facial grammar (that is similar to the topicalization) as well as the head manner. Pause with the hands holding together is also another indicator.

Interpreting from a language to another, unlike translation, is based on a concept and meaning more importantly than word by word.

Gloss: white little feathers

You probably notice a word order of little white feathers throughout the poem by Mary while the narrator signs a different order white little feathers. The former may make more sense in English but the latter makes more sense in ASL, at least they feel natural. Every language has their own grammatical structure. It may be influenced by phonological structure (see phonology for information in "grammar" section).

The signed base word for "feather" is modified here in the poem. It may be a different sign for a feather in native American's head and so on. In this context in the poem, the feathers represent a bird's feathers.

Gloss: feathers falling-down

The handshape of the feathers now is used as a classifier for the rest of this poem. Classifier acts as a "pronoun" for the feathers. Not only it functions as a "pronoun", it is also incorporated with other verbs or actions of the feathers.

Gloss: feathers, why you-there?

Body-shifting, eye-gazing, and referential space show clearly that they refer to the snow-feathers and the first-person.

Gloss: we come/came from far-high

The signed verb come is inflected to fit in spatial agreement between the subject and the object. It indicates that feathers come here from far high above.

Gloss: high cloud-birds around

Gloss: wings shaking feathers-falling-down

The classifier of the handshapes represents the wings. The signer describes the movement of the wings. As she holds the left-handed classifier (wing), she signs with the other classifier which represents a feather. She inflects the verb of the feather to describe its movement (e.g. how the feathers move from the wings). The plural movements indicate many feathers falling down.

Gloss: zoom around

The movement, repetition, and classifier suggest that the birds are fast flying around.

Related posts

Related tutorial: Blossoms and Children: poetry.

Time and Again by Rainer Maria Rilke.