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Preliminary Remarks on Wallace Stevens’ "The Snow Man"

The Snow Man
Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Commentary:

Someone who “must have a mind of winter” sees frost, sees ice, sees snow and cannot conceive of the misery of the landscape. He can’t even see how the one potentially beautiful thing – the light of the January sun – is made mere glitter by the distance of the sun.

Now you might say there is a very dark beauty here. But since this is my first time through the poem, I want to keep that more complicated thought in the background. Of course there is a very dark beauty, but I want to see where the poem is going first.

From seeing (he saw ice & frost & snow & light & trees) we move to hearing. If this someone exists, he cannot hear the misery in the wind, nor the leaves rustling, nor the land itself.

The mention of “the land” itself, the land being “full of the same wind” which blows “in the same bare place” brings our speaker to a third shift. We move from seeing to hearing to the mental state of a listener. Is this listener the “someone” talked about, a person that may not be able to figure out the misery of the land because of his own coldness?

I think, and I’m really not sure about this, that the answer is yes, that our listener is cold of heart, numb to the landscape’s misery. Note the contrast with him and the trees. Sure, they have something in common. They’re all standing under snow and ice. But the trees are affected, weighed down, tortured by the winter. Our “listener,” on the other hand, is “nothing.” He sees “nothing that is not there” – he is insensitive to the misery of the landscape. And thus nothing is for him everything.

Note that the trees will be reborn in spring; because they experience a pain of sorts, they will have new life. Our “listener,” on the other hand, has found the perfect season for his own tastes.

I could be wrong about everything I just wrote. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this poem. I actually don’t like Stevens.

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1 Comment

  1. Ooh, pretty. Thanks for posting!

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