The narrator notices a patch of old snow and at first believes that it must be an old newspaper that has blown into the corner and been flattened by the rain. The flecks of dirt in the snow are similar to the fine print of a newspaper, which supports the narrator’s initial conclusion. The narrator points out that he never remembers the news of the day even if he does read the newspaper.
This poem is eight lines long and broken into two stanzas. According to Frost, the poem was meant to serve as an example of his “sense of sound” theory, in that the specific terms are meant to evoke the meaning of the text. Frost also intended this poem to emulate the pithy style of Ezra Pound, who was critical of Frost’s more verbose style. With that in mind, “A Small Patch of Snow” is stylistically similar to Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” which reads:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Frost’s poem is still a great deal longer than Pound’s work, but Frost’s focus on clarity and brevity is apparent.
In the first stanza of Frost’s poem, the narrator notices the patch of snow and immediately concludes that it is something else. The snow was once a beautiful symbol of the winter season, but now, after a few weeks on the ground, it is as dirty and forgotten as an old newspaper. The narrator feels guilty about this misidentification, declaring that he “should” have recognized the snow; he “should” have recognized the beauty of winter.
In the second stanza, the narrator promptly undercuts the regret of the first stanza by rationalizing his initial conclusion about the snow. The dirt on the snow looks exactly like the fine print of the newspaper, so he cannot be held responsible for his mistake; the beauty of winter is only present in flawless white snow, not in old snow that can be easily confused for something else.
In the last two lines of the poem, the narrator provides an even more thorough justification of his behavior by admitting that he rarely reads newspapers. Not only is the patch of snow forgotten as a sign of winter, but it is also forgotten in terms of its accidental identity as an old newspaper. The beauty of winter and yesterday's news are equally ignored and abandoned.