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The Snowman by Wallace Stevens

[full text available]

If this poem were a garden it would be a winter garden.  It begins this way:

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

What could it mean to have a mind of winter?

I’m more familiar with another poem by Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.  It’s also a poem about looking.  It begins in winter:

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

And it ends in winter:

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Both poems have the quiet in them of a winter garden.
The quiet of a winter morning.

What might it mean to have a mind of winter?

Last Monday we met at Cancer Services for our writing workshop.  We read three poems aloud before we started.  One was Elaine’s poem about a rose garden in winter.  Sometimes a single word or image comes out of an evening and I’ll remember it.  This time the word was hibernate.  Winter as a time, perhaps, for hibernation.  C. remembered a time when her son was small and it was raining and he was happy—relieved—because, he said, now he wouldn’t have to go outside and play.  The reprieve of a rainy day.  Like the reprieve of a snow day.  Nothing expected.  No place to go.   

A mind of winter?

This past week we had a snow day here in North Carolina on Thursday.  Well, a wintry mix day.  White on the grass and droplets on the tree branches—droplets poised between ice and water.  Nothing expected.

Last year we had a snow day in February and I took this picture.  Purple tulips in winter.


Wallace Stevens calls his poem The Snowman but it doesn’t have a snowman in it.
Except maybe for him.
(Does he call it the Snowman because he’s a man looking at the snow?)

This is how The Snowman ends:

. . . the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing
that is.

What might it mean to have a mind of winter?


[please note: this piece originally appeared in January 2008 at Writing and Healing, Year 2, and is now being moved to the Healing Library]