Dec 14, 2010

Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man," Take Two

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

Some poems are so linked to a season or occasion that they must be posted more than once. Last February, we had a good discussion going, but it fizzled. So here is "The Snow Man" again, along with our comments ten months ago.

Like most Stevens, "The Snow Man" is fairly cerebral and philosophical, maybe so much so that it's dry and heartless. Maybe I should argue that Stevens is the Picasso of 20th century poetry. But I like the poem's take on imagination and the possibility of empathic flights, along with the potential outcomes.

Also, I like the poem's effort to simply tell it like it is (whatever "it" might be). Maybe the ending is nihilistic, but maybe it's just cynical about fairy tales.

I also think "The Snow Man" touches on a phrase I haven't yet persuaded readers to respond to: one's "way of being in the world."

Last February, Brenda and I might seem to be disagreeing, but I think we were simply flipping seasons. Whether it's January in Stevens' Connecticut or July in Arizona, what does it mean to be a "snow man" or a "sun man"? What is the Snow Man's way of being in the world? And of course, ditto Sun Man?

Whatever the answer, should we fight it? Is it OK to resign ourselves to what obviously is, or should we reevaluate our way of being and try to alter it to the extent possible? Would that be a minor tweaking or a major overhaul?

Has each of us simply leaked, like Steven's Snow Man, into our environments and become as frigidly sunny or as suffocatingly hot as the landscape and atmosphere? If so, is that leaking into the larger Out There, that surrender of self, inevitable? Does it make sense to "rage, rage against the dying of the light" or should we, after all, "go gentle into that good night"?

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



Barbaro said...

That last line is one of the all-time greats, but I've never fully accepted the central pathetic fallacy of the poem: winter (or any extreme weather) only suggests "misery" to someone who already has cause to be so. Physical discomfort at extreme temps. may be almost inevitable, but that's not the same as "misery." I was just out today in the ultra-frigid weather and found it invigorating and dazzling, not miserable at all. Ask a dog how sweet winter is if you don't believe me.

Anonymous said...

Dry and heartless? This poem almost made me cry.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I interpreted the poem as a meditation. About being still. As to your question, I have no intention of surrendering the self, but I could do with a little less ego. Perhaps that is why the poem struck me as a meditation on stillness.

btw: I've only seen snowfall once, but I do recall quite (not silence).

Midsummer: I was on a rangy horse with a sense of the land. I was assigned to go out and report as to whether the windmills were producing water or not. I got lost. The Sandhills of Nebraska. Rolling hills and not an object man made to give me anchor. In that moment of realization, instead of fear, I experienced solitude/quiet.

Banjo52 said...

AH, I can see why. I love the poem's imagery and therefore find its conclusion chilling. But a lot of readers find Stevens all brain, no heart, so I wanted to acknowledge that I'm aware of that.

PA, I really like that "meditation on stillness." Though I was driving, I've also been alone in that spectacular! part of Nebraska (and S. Dakota), so I find your example compelling. Care to share what you were doing there? And how you got back to home base? Absolutely plausible to be lost in that landscape and to feel the quiet!

Brenda's Arizona said...

PA's comment and midsummer story are excellent! It is easy to feel her stillness in the Sandhills.

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