The setting is an annual Christmas celebration party at the house of two elderly Misses Morkan who are known and respected for their love of music. Family and various other guests are in attendance, and the party is going well with dancing, singing and good conversation everywhere. Gabriel, the protagonist and nephew of the elderly women, is a literature professor and is married to Gretta.
While at the party, he is full of high spirits, socializing with the guests, participating in speech at dinner, and innocent flirtation with a female guest.
Gabriel, trembling with delight at her sudden kiss and at the quaintness of her phrase, put his hands on her hair and began smoothing it back, scarcely touching it with his fingers.
Towards the end of the party, Gretta hears a song that reminds her of a boy named Michael Furey with whom she was deeply in love before she got married to Gabriel.
The boy, she says, was so much in love with her that he died for her. This revelation greatly affects their relationship and takes an emotional toll on Gabriel, transforming his joyous mood into a saddening and reflective one.
A wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love.
He feels dejected, humiliated and jealous, thus realizing that despite their marriage, there are parts of Gretta that he had never known. Separately, he feels his own life fading into irrelevance and his own death approaching, symbolised by the snow that additionally illustrates the common theme of life and death.