Snow man

The Snow Man

The Snow Man is a poem from Wallace Stevens's first book of poetry, Harmonium. It was first published in 1921 and is therefore in the public domain.

Overview

   The Snow Man

 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.

John Serio reports that Jay Keyser, in a broadcast on National Public Radio, declared “The Snow Man” to be “the best short poem in the English language bar none”

Sometimes classified as one of Stevens' "poems of epistemology", it can be read as an expression of the naturalistic skepticism that he absorbed from his friend and mentor, Santayana. It is skeptical that anything can be known about a substantial self (Santayana was an epiphenomenalist) or indeed about substances in the world apart from the perspectives that human imagination brings to "the nothing that is" when it perceives "junipers shagged with ice", etc. There is something wintry about this insight, which Stevens captures in The Necessary Angel by writing, "The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.

The poem is an expression of Stevens' perspectivism, leading from a relatively objective description of a winter scene to a relatively subjective emotional response (thinking of misery in the sound of the wind), to the final idea that the listener and the world itself are "nothing" apart from these perspectives. See Gubbinal and Nuances of a theme by Williams for comparisons.

B.J. Leggett construes Stevens's perspectivism as commitment to the principle that "instead of facts we have perspectives, none privileged over the others as truer or more nearly in accord with things as they are, although not for that reason all equal. This principle that "underlies Nietzschean thought" is central to Leggett's reading. It may be observed that Stevens's remark in the passage quoted above from The Necessary Angel falls short of conforming to that principle, implying a condition of `the world about us' that is distinct from the perspectives we bring to it.

Notes

References

  • Serio, John. "Introduction". 2007: Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens.
  • Stevens. H. Letters of Wallace Stevens. 1966: University of California Press.
  • Leggett, B.J. Early Stevens: The Nietzschean Intertext. 1992: Duke University Press.
  • Stevens, Wallace. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination. 1942: Vintage.

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