Often in winter, the first stanza of Wallace Stevens’s terrific poem, “The Snow Man” pops into my head. “One must have a mind of winter / To regard the frost and the boughs / Of the pine-trees crusted with snow…”
So today I revisited the poem and it was wonderful to hold this perfectly packed ice-ball of a poem in my hands again. It is a brilliant piece and thrills me with each visit, with each re-reading.
Already this season has brought much snow and some brutal cold, and we have a long way to go. I hope, like Stevens’s snow man, I might find some way to be winter-minded, to merge enough with winter’s bare facts so as not to impose any of my cluttered etchings upon its blank canvases, in order to behold the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”
Part of the perfect enigma of this poem is that Stevens seems to hint that we, not being Nothing enough as the snow man, may not be able to experience such an empty eye enough to see winter bare and true as it is, that we may not be able “not to think / Of any misery…”
But to be like the snow man, or to “have a mind of winter” suggests to me a slowing down, a stillness, a halt. I needed this reminder today, when I’ve been at such cross-purposes with winter’s quiet calm. I need to stand still and watch—to be a better listener in the snow.
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.
-Wallace Stevens, 1921