The speaker in the poem is viewing this wintry situation through her window. She compares the snow's entrance to that of a pale empress overtaking the area with commanding presence. This image is beautifully illustrated by Marie-France's painting, "Neige". Its swirled landscape and chilled grace complement the lines ---sailed in, swirling/ around Île-de-France / in her sabled cloak and gown.
As the poem progresses, the woman muses to herself that such a climatic invasion may be payback, avenging the campaign Napoleon launched to conquer Russia in 1812. And though "all avenues are blocked " and citizens "blend' into this waiting, she is hopeful the next day will be clearer. Her outlook predicts the sky will be "punctuated with a scant circling of birds, a breath of freedom, a pause in this run-on occurrence of snow and fog.