Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter (from poetry180)
It is a cold and snowy night. The main street is deserted.
The only things moving are swirls of snow.
As I lift the mailbox door, I feel its cold iron.
There is a privacy I love in this snowy night.
Driving around, I will waste more time.
The poem’s 6 sentences are 5 lines: “I” occurs 4 times in the last 3. The first 2 lines concern “things,” and the only “things” are “swirls of snow.” “Night” and “street” are time and place.
“Cold” and “snowy night” are split when “I” emerges: “cold iron” is lifted; the “snowy night” is dwelt in, holding privacy. Our speaker is the landscape: “The only things moving” implies, considered with “driving,” that he is a swirl of snow. “Waste more time” implies that going to mail the letter itself was a waste – writing it, then, was also a waste?
So is this just an ode to loneliness? Not quite. The desertion of the main street and the harsh weather ask whether man is by nature a social being. All of us have times in our lives where we must be alone; we can also wonder whether the first man ever knew – or could know – anyone else. If he is not social, he is a swirl of snow, but not simply: “I lift” / “I feel” / “I love” / “I will.” The burden is the absence of burden: he must love the privacy, for any hope of company is merely that – hope. Each end of his actions in the last three lines is directed to increasingly reduced objects: “door,” “iron,” “privacy,” “time.”
From Heidegger, “What is Metaphysics?” –
In anxiety, we say, “one feels ill at ease.” What is “it” that makes “one” feel ill at ease? We cannot say what it is before which one feels ill at ease. As a whole it is so for one. All things and we ourselves sink into indifference. This, however, not in the sense of mere disappearance. Rather, in this very receding things turn toward us. The receding of beings as a whole that closes in on us in anxiety oppresses us. We can get no hold on things. In the slipping away of beings only this “no hold on things” comes over us and remains.
Anxiety reveals the nothing…. With the fundamental mood of anxiety we have arrived at that occurrence in human existence in which the nothing is revealed and from which it must be interrogated (101).
It is not clear our speaker feels anxiety; it looks like the condition he is in is more like the counterfactual outlined above, “what if man is not a social being?” He does seem to be indifferent, but he is in motion, not closed-in. Still, Heidegger’s discussion of anxiety leading to questions of being and nothing is probably appropriate to consider now. Our speaker is confronting nothingness and can only communicate through what may be messages in a bottle. He can only wish to be truly heard. In a way, this is akin to a philosophic condition, one which logos does complicate. We note that only the title mentions something about a letter.
Heidegger, Martin. “What is Metaphysics?” in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell. New York: Harper Collins, 1993. p. 89-110.