Guest poem sent in by Cristina Gazzieri
(Poem #1432) 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.
Among Stevens's poems this has always been my favourite, even if, whenever I tackle the commentary of it, I find it difficult to focus exactly on the theme and especially, the message of the poem. I think, the difficulties of interpretation come from the contradictory elements. For example, the first part has its evocative appeal; the images of the trees "crusted" with snow, the junipers "shagged" with ice, the spruces "rough" in the "glitter" of the sun is not simply the description of nature of an observer who, "beholds nothing that is not there". It is not an objective picture of a snowy landscape; it is artistic, poetic appreciation of the outside world, and, therefore, in a sense, just the denial of seeing "nothing that is not there". I think, one of the themes of the poem is just the approach towards reality, the conflict between the rational consciousness of the existential "void", between the will to see things as they are, and the innate human tendency to create worlds (even poetic ones), to reinterpret what we see in artistic (or philosophical, or moral) terms. After reading the poem one wonders who the "snow man" is. I think it is a negative term of comparison; it is what man cannot be, what a poet can surely never become. Much more is suggested, if not discussed: the misery of human condition; the natural, emotional bond between man and nature, the "emptiness within" of the twentieth century man. In the end there is the enigma of the interpretation of the first line. "One must have a mind of winter" to look at the spectacle of winter nature and not to think of human condition. What is the meaning? Is it an invitation in philosophical and artistic terms to look at reality without superimposing interpretations on it? Or is it a deduction that only "snow men" can do so? That real men create the landscape, the "reality" they see, artistically, conceptually, morally? Cristina [Martin adds] The last line reminds me of the following passage from Chesterton's Father Brown story "The Wrong Shape": "When that Indian spoke to us," went on Brown in a conversational undertone, "I had a sort of vision, a vision of him and all his universe. Yet he only said the same thing three times. When first he said 'I want nothing,' it meant only that he was impenetrable, that Asia does not give itself away. Then he said again, 'I want nothing,' and I knew that he meant that he was sufficient to himself, like a cosmos, that he needed no God, neither admitted any sins. And when he said the third time, 'I want nothing,' he said it with blazing eyes. And I knew that he meant literally what he said; that nothing was his desire and his home; that he was weary for nothing as for wine; that annihilation, the mere destruction of everything or anything--" A very different take on the same basic idea. martin