The poem The Snow Man written by Wallace Stevens is an enigmatic poem that invites people into the psyche of winter to experience an eventual paradox. Despite its short structure, the poem is filled with complexity due to exploration of the different levels of consciousness. Noticeably, ‘snow man’ is not mention in the first five stanzas. The author managed to inject a sense of desolate beauty into the landscape of winter through tone changes. The poem begins with a meditative tone then evolves into a distant one tackling themes of aesthetic appreciation and emotional attachment. The narrator in the poem describes all throughout the poem the traits of the snow man that is the named in the title. This entity must not project their own, or the surrounding’s problems onto an abandoned landscape. The entity must see it as it is, abandoned. The entity, however, is important without an attempt to personify human emotions.
“One must have a mind of winter, to regard the frost and the boughs; of the pine-trees crusted with snow” (Stevens, 1-3). The opening lines of the poem shows Steven’s attempt to explain the different characteristics that a person must have to correctly understand the nature of winter. Stevens wrote ‘one must have a mind of winter’ (1) in order to appreciate the coldness. The opening lines of the poem raises many questions including what it means to have a mind of winter. On a literary perspective, this can mean being detached from worldly emotions. An individual, in order to understand the nature of winter must be immune from all the chaos and drams of the world. This person is willing to turn his/her back on emotions in order to understand the world it its rawest form.
Stevens proceeds with explaining what it means to be a ‘snow man’. Stevens wrote “And have been cold a long time” (4). This is another variation for his earlier statement about having a mind of winter for a long time. “To behold the junipers shagged with ice, the spruces rough in the distant glitter” (Stevens 5-6). In these lines, Stevens use the term ‘rough’ as a replacement meaning in the line. The term is an alternative for ill-defined or sketchy silhouette in the distance. This means that the landscape was harder to visualize. In the next stanza, the author continued with the description of what the ‘sound’ of the wing and leaves mean- described human emotions. In the next stanzas it becomes evident that the narrator is having a hard time to personify. Initially, he was sure that the manifestation of human emotions would hinder one’s understanding of the world. A snow man cannot be used as a symbolism of human’s misery onto the sound of the world.
The following stanzas, Stevens wrote “Of the January sun; and not to think of any misery in the sound of the wind, In the sound of a few leaves” (7-9). In these lines, the author continued the imagery and utilized “January sun.’ The addition of the environment and time to the poem added a layer of intensity to the cold being described. January, in essence, is described as frozen wonderland and the ‘sun’ much like human emotion is not able to transform the frozen landscape. The poem anchored the theme of isolation in ‘sound’. “Which is the sound of the land Full of the same wind that is blowing in the same bare place.” (Stevens, 10-12). Scientifically, sound waves are extremely powerful construct and in the article written by Howgego he even mentioned that a new approach to contact-free manipulation could be used to combine lab samples–and prevent contamination in relation with sound waves ability to move objects (1). This is applicable to the poem because ‘sound’ has the power to move people’s emotions. Even if a person tries to isolate himself from the world; this is actually impossible. Despite the desire for isolation, the snow and the man cannot be fully kept apart. This could mean that no matter how hard man tries; he can never separate himself from the world.
The ambiguous feel of the poem remains up to its ending. After reading the poem, the readers will not get answers to any of their questions. In essence, Stevens used his poem to set up a mental arena that explores human consciousness. “For the listener, who listens in the snow, and, nothing himself, beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (Stevens, 13-15). In the end, the narrator managed to achieve peace with paradox. Stevens avoided the temptation of treating the narrator’s experience as an encounter with inhuman void. And in the process, Stevens embraces the fact that underneath people’s perception is ‘the nothing that is’. This reflects not reality is nothing more but a black slate and people’ encounters and experiences build this reality.
In conclusion, like sound waves explained in Howgego’s article, the most important aspect to keep in mind about Stevens’ The Snow Man is its abstraction. If dissected carefully, the poem is not actually talking about winter or the titular appearance. But actually explores man’s levels of consciousness. For the author, the bare landscape of winter represents a mental arena in which he can reflect on deeper questions. For example, he used this mental arena to question the essence of existence and the concepts that lie beneath subject emotions. He also questioned man’s emotional judgment and how emotions affect how man understands his world. In the end, Stevens leaves a through-provoking question on whether is it truly possible to remove subjective experiences; if these experiences are embedded deeply on the essence of humanity? All of these questions were not directly answered in the poem. And Stevens lets the reader explore their own consciousness to find answers on their own.
Howgego, Josh. Sound Waves Levitate and Move Objects. Scientific American. 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sounds-waves-levitate-and-move-objects/
Stevens, Wallace. The Snow Man. 1921. Print