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"Snowfall", by Ravi Shankar, has this as its first verse:

Particulate as ash, new year's first snow falls
upon peaked roofs, car hoods, undulant hills,
in imitation of motion that moves the way

I found it strange that the very first descriptor of snow is that it is like ash. To me, "ash" conjures up blackness, and "snow" whiteness, so this was a jarring comparison. There are plenty common white particles which could have been used (sugar, salt, baking powder...). Is there some significance or meaning that can be extracted from this word choice? Some reason that a particle of the opposite color would be used?

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Ash particles are not the opposite colour from snow. Ash is generally pale grey to white in colour. The products of burning that are black are the heavier bits, the cinders, and the soot that deposits on surfaces as a product of imperfect combustion.

glowing embers of wood, black charred wood and white ashes

This stock image shows glowing embers, charred and blackened wood and the white/grey ashes.

Ash flakes float on the air, rising on the thermals of the blaze and drifting downwards as the spin out into cooler air. They are reminiscent of snow, though not as white in themselves seen against a pale sky both ash and snow flakes can look black.

For snow to be ‘particulate as ash’ is to share the form of ash. I read this as conjuring images of the kind of light flakes of snow that swirl and skitter in the air rather than the deadening heavy snow that falls dead straight and heavy like a stage curtain.

The other white particles you mentioned are seldom to be found floating and drifting in air. While they share the colour of snow they do not share its form.

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    Is it just purely descriptive, then? I was also wondering about symbolic significance etc.
    – bobble
    Dec 24, 2021 at 0:44
  • 1
    Maybe there is, I can’t find anything written about it and for me it works as description. I’ve given you my reading of it, there may well be others.
    – Spagirl
    Dec 24, 2021 at 1:59
  • The poem later compares the fall of snow to static on a screen, so he definitely wants to convey the look of grayness. Jan 18, 2022 at 5:23

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