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Thread: The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

  1. #1

    The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

    http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/...vens.Snowman.h

    tml

    Wallace Stevens
    (1879-1955)



    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.


    -- from Harmonium , 1923

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    http://knitandcontemplation.typepad....re_on_the.html

    Commentary by Robert Pack:

    (excerpts):

    In the remarkable poem "The Snow Man," Stevens dramatizes the
    action of a mind as it becomes one with the scene it perceives, and at
    that instant, the mind having ceased to bring something of itself to
    the scene, the scene then ceases to exist fully.


    We, with the "one" of the poem, begin by watching the winter scene
    while in our mind the connotations of misery and cold brought forth by
    the scene are stirring.

    But gradually, almost imperceptibly, we are divested of whatever it is
    that distinguishes us from the snow man. We become the snow man,
    and we see the winter world through his eyes of coal, and we know
    the cold without the thoughts of human discomfort.

    To perceive the winter scene truly, we must have the mind of the
    snow man, until correspondence becomes identification. Then we see
    with the sharpest eye the images of winter: "pine-trees crusted with
    snow," "junipers shagged with ice," "spruces rough in the distant
    glitter/ Of the January sun." We hear with the acutest ear the cold
    sibilants evoking the sense of barrenness and monotony: "sound of
    the wind," "sound of a few leaves," "sound of the land," "same wind,"
    "same bare place," "For the listener, who listens in the snow."

    The "one" with whom the reader has identified himself has now
    become "the listener, who listens in the snow"; he has become the
    snow man, and he knows winter with a mind of winter, knows it in its
    strictest reality, stripped of all imagination and human feeling. But at
    that point when he sees the winter scene reduced to absolute fact, as
    the object not of the mind, but of the perfect perceptual eye that sees
    "nothing that is not there," then the scene, devoid of its imaginative
    correspondences, has become "the nothing that is."


    From Wallace Stevens: An approach to his poetry and thought. New
    Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1958.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minst...oems/1432.html


    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?

    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--"


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poe...ns/snowman.htm

    Robert Pack

    In the remarkable poem "The Snow man," Steven dramatizes the
    action of a mind as it becomes one with the scene it perceives, and at
    that instant, the mind having ceased to bring something of itself to
    the scene, the scene then ceases to exist fully.

    We, with the "one" of the poem, begin by watching the winter scene
    while in our mind the connotations of misery and cold brought forth by
    the scene are stirring. But gradually, almost imperceptibly, we are
    divested of whatever it is that distinguishes us from the snow man.

    We become the snow man, and we see the winter world through his
    eyes of coal, and we know the cold without the thoughts of human
    discomfort. To perceive the winter scene truly, we must have the mind
    of the snow man, until correspondence becomes identification. Then
    we see with the sharpest eye the images of winter: "pine-trees
    crusted with snow," "junipers shagged with ice," "spruces rough in the
    distant glitter/ Of the January sun." We hear with the acutest ear the
    cold sibilants evoking the sense of barrenness and monotony: "sound
    of the wind," "sound of a few leaves," "sound of the land," "same
    wind," "same bare place," "For the listener, who listens in the snow."

    The "one" with whom the reader has identified himself has now
    become "the listener, who listens in the snow"; he has become the
    snow man, and he knows winter with a mind of winter, knows it in its
    strictest reality, stripped of all imagination and human feeling. But at
    that point when he sees the winter scene reduced to absolute fact, as
    the object not of the mind, but of the perfect perceptual eye that sees
    "nothing that is not there," then the scene, devoid of its imaginative
    correspondences, has become "the nothing that is."

    From Wallace Stevens: An approach to his poetry and thought. New
    Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1958.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    David Perkins

    We may note that the poem posits two types of listener. One would
    hear a "misery in the sound of the wind." Through his own imaginative
    creativity he would project a human emotion into the scene and
    locate it there. Thus, he would make the landscape one with which
    human beings can feel sympathy. The other listener would hear
    nothing more than the sound of the wind. He would exert none of this
    spontaneous and almost inevitable creativity. The poem embodies
    Stevens’ central theme, the relation between imagination and reality.
    Endless permutations of this theme were possible. Was reality the
    world seen without imagination? If so, was imagination the world
    seen without reality? That was a bitter truth, if it was the truth. But
    perhaps the snowman, who heard no "misery" in the wind, was
    projecting himself into the scene just as much as the other listener.

    Perhaps the snowman beheld nothing only because he was "nothing
    himself," since, to cite a later poem, whoever "puts a pineapple
    together" always sees it "in the tangent of himself."

    from David Perkins, A History of Modern Poetry: From the 1890s to
    the High Modernist Mode (Cambridge: Harvard U P, 1976), 542-544.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

  2. #2
    Pat Righelato

    This is not a grandiose claim for the infinite extent of consciousness,
    but it is nevertheless a heroic effort of perception, a Modernist
    reassessment of Transcendentalist vision, a revision of Emerson’s
    ecstatic merging in the more sustained awareness of the separation
    of consciousness and nature. Stevens is trying to make ‘a new
    intelligence prevail’, an intelligence which understands the strategies
    of consciousness as fictions rather than religious truths.


    From Righelato, Pat, "Wallace Stevens." In American Poetry: The
    Modernist Ideal. Ed. Clive Bloom and Brian Docherty. New York: St.
    Martin’s Press, 1995. Ó 1995 The Editorial Board Lumiere
    (Cooperative Press) Ltd.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Anthony Whiting

    Stevens' use of the word "behold" also contributes to the sense that
    the mind is apprehending the larger universe at the end of "The Snow
    Man." "Behold" suggests in addition that Stevens views this
    apprehension as an extraordinary moment of heightened intensity. As
    well as expressing a sense of possession, the word "behold" also
    expresses a sense of revelation, in the biblical sense of the revelation
    of extraordinary things. We "behold" acts of God, miracles, mysteries.

    "Behold," God said after creating the world, "I have given you every
    herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every
    tree" (Gen. 1:29). As "The Snow Man " moves toward its reductive
    extreme, the perspective widens and the tone of the poem becomes
    elevated and more serious. At the poem's conclusion, "the nothing
    that is," pure being, is beheld, magisterially "revealed" and
    "possessed." . . .

    from The Never-Resting Mind: Wallace Stevens' Romantic Irony.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    John Gery

    Prompted by the clarity of the poem's first line, once we make the
    deceptively easy leap to a mind of winter we gain the power to
    perform three acts: "to regard" (an act both physical and cerebral), "to
    behold" (a physical act only), and "not to think" (an act most assuredly
    cerebral yet one that Stevens simultaneously negates). In a mind of
    winter, one can "regard" the scene before him or her, and if one has
    been "cold a long time" then he or she can look at that scene without
    thinking "of any misery" in its sights and sounds. Of course, not to
    attribute any emotional qualities to a landscape as a viewer perceives
    it is to be not a human but a "'snow man, so what the poet asks of us
    is possible only within the imagination.

    From Ways of Nothingness: Nuclear Annihilation and Contemporary
    American Poetry. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Beverly Maeder

    Timothy Bahti has written that when we consider the poem as it
    moves across its formal space from beginning to end/ending, the
    effect of the "logic of this turn in the middle . . . is to call the scene to
    the mind and, in the immediate negation, to call the mind away from
    it. It is an abstraction that renders concrete." Human consciousness in
    such a reading is drawn away from the sound of the wind and the
    concatenation that ensues. The imagined subject's reaction is defined
    only in terms of its negation: not thinking of a human emotion,
    "misery." This would be what it is to have a mind of winter or, as
    Macksey suggests in one of the earlier phenomenological
    interpretations, to practice the "chastity of the intellect" that is the
    kernel of Santayana's definition of skepticism. It keeps the
    hypothetical subject of consciousness--a snow man like the
    title's--safe from projecting himself onto the scene or confusing his
    own emotions (if he has any) with the nature of his surroundings.


    It is in part because of the fullness of the first half that we notice the
    spareness of the second half and shift our attention from the
    luxuriance of lexis in the first to the intricacy of syntactic repetitions
    and relations in the second. If we can have a mind of winter, not
    seeing this as "misery" is one of the non-ontological activities the
    poem invites us to participate in. Like the jar represented in

    "Anecdote of the Jar," the poem can be understood as not "giv[ing] of
    bird or bush" while yet having "dominion" over all: its representational
    authority over nature is ambivalent, while its patterned word-world is
    clearly the sign of the power of artifice and of the artificer to create
    this syntactical thing.

    Many critics have considered that the principal metaphysical allusion
    in "The Snow Man" is Emerson's "Nature," in particular the famous
    passage in which Emerson describes himself crossing a bare
    Common, and finding himself on "bare ground' where he be comes
    one with nature, through the vehicle of his "transparent eyeball." "I
    am nothing," he says; "I see all."

    From Wallace Stevens’ Experimental Language: The Lion in the Lute.
    New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    B.J. Leggett

    One of the most frequently cited of the early poems of epistemology,
    "The Snow Man" (CP, 9) asks whether a world could remain over if
    point of view were canceled or what the features of a perspectiveless
    world might he. "The Snow Man" has been cited in support of any
    number of disparate interpretations of Stevens, although it has most
    frequently been given a realist reading, as an "affirmation of primal
    reality" (Litz, 100) or a "'plain reality' which harbors no mystical . . .
    element" (Leonard and Wharton, 65). In an influential early essay J.

    Hillis Miller identified the poem's "nothing" with being and argued that
    for Stevens nothingness is the underlying reality, "the source and end
    of everything" (Poetry of Being, 155). In Paul Bové's more recent

    Heideggerian reading the poem is said to record the process by which
    its speaker "sees the primordiality of Being-in-the-World" and learns
    that "he is ontologically identical with the other insofar as they are
    both part of 'what-is' existing in and by virtue of 'nothing'" (Destructive
    Poetics, 191). Against Miller and Bové I will argue that the "nothing" of
    the poem may be read with less strain as Nietzsche's featureless
    becoming, the ground upon which we construct our worlds. . . .



    But of course we learn eventually that if a mind of winter were
    achieved, the snowman would not in fact regard pine trees, junipers,
    or spruces, since these designations are the most elementary
    examples of human abstraction and classification. Neither would he
    behold objects that are crusted, shagged, or glittering--all metaphors
    imposed on the scene. He would not see these objects in the light of a

    January sun, time and its divisions constituting another human
    ordering. He would not be aware that the spruces are being observed
    in the "distant glitter," since the concept of distance assumes a point
    of view. In brief, the qualities of the scene that interest us, that are
    described in such a way that they constitute the motive for assuming
    a particular kind of mental state, are precisely what are lost when this
    state is realized. The argument of the poem may thus be reduced to
    this form: in order to realize x, surrender the faculties by which x is
    realized.

    The poem attempts to get rid of a manmade world but its language
    keeps reasserting what it relinquishes and thereby reveals what a
    much later text says outright: "the absence of the imagination had /
    Itself to be imagined" (CP, 503). . .

    Excerpted from a longer analysis in Early Stevens: The Nietzschean
    Intertext.

  3. #3
    The "sound of the wind" that is also "the sound of the land" serves as the ultimate grounding of the poem's landscape, of the poem's cosmos. It is that sound to which "the listener . . . listens," and it is that listening—as listening, a concentration beyond thought, a concentration transcending the ordinary mental noise which flashes through our heads each second—that leads to the epiphany of the poem's final line: the "Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." This is a state of mind which various systems of Yoga refer to as samadhi. Samadhi can be variously translated as deep equanimity of mind, meditation in which the mind is quieted to the point of stillness and "one-pointedness," and apotheosis or union with divinity (sam—together with + adhi—Lord or divinity).1 It is also explained as a synthesis, a putting of the mind, or intellect, together in a unified meditative state through a contemplation of the divine (sam—together + a + dhi—mind or intellect). This state of mind, this samadhi, can be arrived at through sound; specifically, this means through the use of external sound to still the internal sounds of the mind, to still the steady stream of conscious thought (the thought that would lead to thinking of "misery in the sound of the wind"), until finally a state of quiet repose, contemplation, and sharply reduced or even eliminated sense of separation and duality is reached. This is the state in which "One," as a "listener" may behold the "Nothing that is not there," realize, in other words, the illusory nature of such separations as I and Thou, I and It, I and not-I. This is also the state in which "One," as a "listener" may behold the "nothing that is," the no-thing of the via negativa, the nirguna brahman (brahman—god, or divinity, or ground of "reality," nir—without, guna—attributes), the "not-god, not-ghost, apersonal, formless" No-thing of Meister Eckhart.

    http://www.brysons.net/academic/snowman.html

    http://www.rzc.org/html/library/zenbow/laymanpang.shtml
    Last edited by Sitaram; 03-05-2005 at 01:42 PM.

  4. #4
    http://teacherweb.ftl.pinecrest.edu/...onal/paper.htm

    Defining [a poem] freezes it into immobility,” Stevens reasoned to publishers three years prior to his death, expressing a view characteristic of even his first poems (qtd. in The Music of What Happens 79). Bewitched by the harmony of fiction and truth and the notes formed in the blur between their boundaries, Stevens is now a staple in the diets of many of today's post-modern poets (John Ashbery, Mark Strand, Jorie Graham) who also promote literature as a continual dialogue rather than a “statement or narrative.” Stevens's poetry enacts “a mental process”(Vendler, Music 78); he is always more concerned with the process of reading a poem than with any “answers” derived from a reading. To Stevens, immobility defines the death of both poem and reader, and to prevent such a “death” he injects a tension into his work in the form of a juxtaposition of truth and fiction. This complexity creates for the reader a perpetual balancing act between truth and fiction addressed by virtually every Stevens's critic. What is not addressed by these critics, however, is that this “harmony,” Stevens's trademark ingredient for “supreme fiction,” is a metaphor for life that in the early twentieth century beckoned a new demand on all poetry to follow.

  5. #5
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    Out of curiosity, I researched into more of Wallace Steven's work, of whom I had previously read very little. Thank you, Sitaram, for introducing me to more of his enlightening poetry. Additionally, I found this fascinating link: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilre...onversion.html
    A few of my favorites:

    Of Mere Being

    The palm at the end of the mind,
    Beyond the last thought, rises
    In the bronze decor,

    A gold-feathered bird
    Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
    Without human feeling, a foreign song.

    You know then that it is not the reason
    That makes us happy or unhappy.
    The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

    The palm stands on the edge of space.
    The wind moves slowly in the branches.
    The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

    ---

    Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself

    At the earliest ending of winter,
    In March, a scrawny cry from outside
    Seemed like a sound in his mind.

    He knew that he heard it,
    A bird's cry, at daylight or before,
    In the early March wind.

    The sun was rising at six,
    No longer a battered panache above snow...
    It would have been outside.

    It was not from the vast ventriloquism
    Of sleep's faded papier-mache...
    The sun was coming from the outside.

    That scrawny cry--It was
    A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
    It was part of the colossal sun,

    Surrounded by its choral rings,
    Still far away. It was like
    A new knowledge of reality.

    ---

    Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

    I
    Among twenty snowy mountains,
    The only moving thing
    Was the eye of the blackbird.

    II
    I was of three minds,
    Like a tree
    In which there are three blackbirds.

    III
    The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
    It was a small part of the pantomime.

    IV
    A man and a woman
    Are one.
    A man and a woman and a blackbird
    Are one.

    V
    I do not know which to prefer,
    The beauty of inflections
    Or the beauty of innuendoes,
    The blackbird whistling
    Or just after.

    VI
    Icicles filled the long window
    With barbaric glass.
    The shadow of the blackbird
    Crossed it, to and fro.
    The mood
    Traced in the shadow
    An indecipherable cause.

    VII
    O thin men of Haddam,
    Why do you imagine golden birds?
    Do you not see how the blackbird
    Walks around the feet
    Of the women about you?

    VIII
    I know noble accents
    And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
    But I know, too,
    That the blackbird is involved
    In what I know.

    IX
    When the blackbird flew out of sight,
    It marked the edge
    Of one of many circles.

    X
    At the sight of blackbirds
    Flying in a green light,
    Even the bawds of euphony
    Would cry out sharply.

    XI
    He rode over Connecticut
    In a glass coach.
    Once, a fear pierced him,
    In that he mistook
    The shadow of his equipage
    For blackbirds.

    XII
    The river is moving.
    The blackbird must be flying.

    XIII
    It was evening all afternoon.
    It was snowing
    And it was going to snow.
    The blackbird sat
    In the cedar-limbs.

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