Feb 10, 2010

"The Snow Man" by Wallace Stevens

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

As he did in "Anecdote of the Jar," (Banjo52, Nov. 12, 2009) Wallace Stevens values the human imagination in “The Snow Man," although his approach here is to expose those without imagination as imperceptive people made of snow. The poem is something of a wonder in syntax, but I think those who go slowly through it a couple of times, appreciating the gems along the way, should be all right.

I find that the core of the poem is “a mind of winter.” Is that a good thing? Does that mean one has the imaginative power to be one with the scene and the season, something like Keats’ Negative Capability, the power to leave oneself momentarily and become what one perceives, such a Grecian Urn or a Nightingale?

Or is “a mind of winter” a dead thing, so dormant, numb and blind that it does not perceive the nothingness everywhere around itself? I think this second interpretation makes more sense. The emphasis on “nothing” and absence in the concluding lines dictates the more pessimistic meaning of “a mind of winter” as an absence of awareness. The snow man is one who does not perceive (he fails to? refuses to?) the barrenness that should be pounding him in the face. He is one who cannot or will not see.

"I was blind but now I see"? Maybe "The Snow Man" is the grim flip-side of "Amazing Grace." Is one perspective more plausible than the other?

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

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Brenda's Arizona said...

I have to disagree that a mind of winter is a dead thing. But I am sure you will sway me to your thoughts.

Winter is a frame of mind. It is a mindset. It is the way one copes with winter. It is the way one accepts the cold, the frost, the trees crusted with snow. It is how one allows himself to cope with it. Here in Arizona, it is summer that a person has to accept, has to flow with. You don't die in it. You don't become dormant. But you do adjust. You feel the heat as it scorches your skin, and you become it. You learn your limitations and you know, you always always know, that Nature will win. You work with it, and if you accept dormancy, you die. Here it is the July sun that glares on to you, it is the hot wind that blows and sucks life right out of you and the trees and any animal lost in it.

If I change the heat to the winter, I can envision the coping skills required to 'be' in it. You don't think of the cold, of the misery, of the sound of the wind. You waste needed energy thinking of the misery. You think of being a part of it just to survive it.

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, Brenda. This sounds really good. Let's see if others add on.

Gothpunkuncle said...

Now that you've turned me toward Sontag, I'm formulating a reading of Stevens as "camp." Some of his output kind of fits her theories on this.

Banjo52 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Banjo52 said...


I'm intrigued, but I might need more explanation. Stevens is "camp" because he so highly values art as artifice?

Gothpunkuncle said...

Yep. That's where I was going with that one. He's downright ornamental at times.

Barbaro said...

One of Steven's finest, IMHO. Some of the best enjambment, and one of the best last lines, in all of poetry.

PJ said...

Speaking of elegant, this is something I imagine being recited in a salon, the well-dressed quietly contemplating the implications. It's an interesting piece but a bit too twinkly for me.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, "salon" and "twinkly"?? Sounds like you and gothpunkuncle are on the same page? I might have to start using "twinkly" even though I'm not sure about its meaning. Cool word.

I'm also waiting for more explanation of your comment (a while ago) about the Wood Stork as a rock star of the avian world. Or is it such a good line that you shouldn't tinker with it?

Banjo52 said...

Once again your heady responses have prompted enough response from me to be a post in itself--Monday 2/15. Thank you. In addition to lighter banter, this is the kind of conversation I hope for here. You're also nudging me into re-reading and re-thinking some poems I haven't been back to for years. This is good.

PJ said...

The wood storks I"ve seen are big, bawdy looking birds, and fairly rare. There's always a lot of fuss and fan fare over sightings of them and their breeding, well there's a lot of interest and cheering.

By twinkly, I meant the trees, in my mind, looked like light glinting of of ice but more manufactured than natural. It's just the way the poem struck me. I do like its sentiment, though. I felt it was written for a particular audience.

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