Poetry Review: “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

"Winter Walks" (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

“Winter Walks” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Winter has settled in here in the North Country. White landscapes and white days. February as it is meant to be.

Mornings now I have been taking our beagle, Lucy, for walks before going to work. In the pre-dawn darkness, our steps mar the untouched snow of un-shoveled sidewalks and side streets. Our tracks seem like lines of words typed across  fresh sheets of new white paper.

Wallace Stevens was a not a “professional” poet. He spent his days as an insurance company executive. His “conventional” life contrasts mightily with his quite un-conventional poetry. No accident I have come to believe. Creation is born in tension.

On another wintery day, his poem “The Snow Man” seems like just the thing.

Enjoy!

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.
  

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

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

 

I think I first read this poem on a summer day on a beach in Florida. I remember stopping at these lines and looking up at the sugar white sands in front of me and the pretty girls walking by in bikinis and thinking, my mind is as far from winter as it could ever be.

I have returned to this poem over the years and these lines. I find myself repeating them to myself this time of year often… but also on some some days when I am reminded of how time passes and how getting older you begin to think of seasons and time  in different ways.

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