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.
Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1995)
A snow man is an inanimate person made by man out of snow. It stands in the snow quite immune to the snow surroundings with no feelings or identity except to that given to it by the viewer. It knows nothing and is nothing except the nothing of itself being lifeless.
Here is a poem on a much alive person becoming a ‘snow man’. Man (or woman can be read into the equation) experiencing all the vagaries of life and not thinking of misery. These are the key words of acceptance of the trials and tribulations of environment, or is it life itself? This might be stated using the words to be content with the winter of our discontent. And only if we are fully content with our present situation, with no hooks to the past dragging us down, can we fully appreciate the now.
Wallace Stevens studied philosophy so it is not surprising this is reflected in this one sentence work. And in this poem the last three lines have been a stumbling block for many. To add my thoughts; perhaps they highlight the stunning resultant meaning to existence. The listener is the snow-man and you and me. We will become nothing and are nothing and know nothing – except perhaps the nothing that is the total absorption into nature. And then, of course, we are everything.
I am reminded of another line from the Wallace Stevens poem ‘Sunday Morning’ (Part 5 of his religious voice) … – death is the mother of beauty. A nice way of giving death a pretty face!