Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wallace Stevens: The Snow Man

             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 juniper 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 --
The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens

One must be a part of nature--"One must have a mind of winter"-- to be able to look upon the winter scene and not invest it with human feelings--"and not to think/Of any misery in the sound of the wind."   This is the pathetic fallacy, investing nature with human emotions, and it appears frequently in literature and in poetry and in common speech--the sullen cloudy sky, the raging storm, and the cheerful little breeze.

And, any who can avoid the pathetic fallacy "beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is."  In other words, this person sees only what is there and adds nothing to it.

I think this is what Emerson was saying in his essay, "Nature"  --.  .  .  nature is not always tricked  in holiday attire, but the same scene which yesterday breathed perfume and glittered as for the frolic of the nymphs is overspread with melancholy to-day.  Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.  To a man laboring under calamity, the heat of his own fire has sadness in it.  Then there is a kind of contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend.  The sky is less grand as it shuts down over less worth in the population.

I think it is a reciprocal relationship in that we are influenced by what is about us and what we perceive is influenced by our feelings and thoughts at that moment.  Perhaps only a snow man can avoid the pathetic fallacy, "one with a mind of winter," one who is "nothing himself."   


  1. Stevens certainly distances himself from Romanticism, doesn't he? Wordsworth would have written a quite different poem given the same sensory provocations. In so many ways, for better or worse, I am a Wordsworth rather than a Stevens.

  2. R. T.,

    He certainly appears to do exactly that in this poem. I haven't read enough of his poetry to be able to see that this is consistent with his other works or that this is unusual for him.