Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Poem for Hill Country: THE SNOW MAN by Wallace Stevens

Posted by Terry Thornton

Wallace Stevens, 1879 - 1955, was an American poet. His first published book of poems, Harmonium (1923) included The Snow Man which is the poem for this week at Hill Country. The Snow Man was selected for this series not just because of the unusual snow event we've just had in Hill Country nor just because of the bitter bone-chilling temperatures currently in place across the South, but for both those reasons and primarily for the words of the poem.

No attempt will be made to explain Stevens' The Snow Man --- the poem, I think, is successful because of the numerous ways in which his words and phrases may be received. Stevens is credited with the quote "A poem need not have a meaning and like most things in nature often does not have." It is not known if he applied that notion to The Snow Man. In any event, I leave it to the reader to determine what, if any, meaning there is in The Snow Man.

Some have called this poem one of the best short poems in the English language but Harmonium with its collection of eight-five of Stevens earlier works only sold 100 copies before it was withdrawn. A second edition with additional poems was issued a few years later to greater success.

Stevens spent a lot of time in Key West, Florida, where he is reported to have fought with Ernest Hemingway (Stevens broke his hand in that encounter when he hit Hemingway in the jaw --- and Hemingway knocked him to the street several times) and he argued publicly with Robert Frost on at least two occasions.

The Snow Man

Wallace Stevens

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.

Sources and additional reading:

Stevens, Wallace, The Snow Man, Poetry, XIX, Number 1, October 1921, pages 4 -5, Modern Poetry Association, edited by Harriett Monroe. Available on Google Full-view Books. Accessed January 8, 2010. A sampling of several early Stevens poems are included.

"Stevens, Wallace". Wikipedia (click link to read). Accessed January 8, 2010. Short concise review of the man and his work.

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens. Wikipedia (click link to read). Accessed January 8, 2010. The poem and its possible meanings are discussed in this short Wiki article.

Harmonium by Wallace Stevens. Wikipedia (click link to read). Accessed January 8, 2010. A brief Wiki article about the first published book of Stevens poems.

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