Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Wallace Stevens's 'The Snow Man': "One Must Have a Mind of Winter..."

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Winter (1902)

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow...

-Wallace Stevens, 'The Snow Man'

The line "One must have a mind of winter" has been running through my mind a good deal lately. I take this as one of the signs of midwinter (or late-winter, I hope) madness. It's true that I shouldn't have much to complain about; it's not even snowing in London right now and the evidence very much suggests that I would be ill-adapted for a winter in eastern Canada or New England. (And if I ever go to Antarctica, I will have to wrap up very well.) But still, the dark and cold are driving me a bit bonkers. I will jump for joy on the day when I leave work at 5:30 PM and it is noticeably a bit lighter outside.

'The Snow Man' is a particularly serene poem, to an almost disturbing extent. It seems to show some sort of Zen annihilation of the self at work. It is, at any rate, exceptionally evocative, and it conjures up images just like the one in the painting by Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela, above.

THE SNOW MAN (Wallace Stevens)


  1. The poem and the image remind me of a year or two during which I dreamed quite madly of removing to the frozen fastnesses of Lac St. Jean and the Saguenay River in Quebec, a delusion I fortunately have mostly recovered from. It was all inspired initially by my devotion to Louis Hemon's novel 'Marie Chapdelaine--such is the power of literature! As for this fine Stevens poem, the Zenlike quality is indeed curious. Yet how can a self which does not exist 'behold' anything? And how is it that a non-existent nature 'is'? It's wonderful to contemplate.

    1. Thanks for your comments, as always. The negation of self in this poem did make me think about how a lot of the most successful poems seem to remove the overly obtrusive "selfhood" of the poet, which otherwise could intrude and be distracting. The poet reveals their thoughts and emotions by removing themself from the equation, in a sense... In this poem it could also be the poet's awe and feelings of smallness/unimportance before nature. But I think it's more than that. It is kind of unsettling. The bit about being "cold for a long time" kind of makes me laugh, too. Even though in the places I've lived in, I haven't exactly faced winters like this...I still sometimes relate to feeling like I've been cold forever and winter will never end!