Monday, March 2, 2009

Playful title, not at all playful

It's snowing in New York. It was a snow-day for NYC public schools, the first in 5 years. I am feeling blank and hurried. So I am going to turn it over to Wallace Stevens' snow man who is both and neither.

The Snow Man by 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 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.

Snow is at once esthetic and threatening. It's beautiful, but bad things can happen to a man out in the snow and cold. It's also only temporary, and therefore tinged with death. We don't often think of pristine, white things a tinged with death, but that is what this is. The "January sun" hints at the sunnier seasons ahead that will eventually free the spruces and junipers, but crack and melt the snow, the esthetic field of the poem. The "Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is" is death, which at every [living] moment is inching closer, like a speck (or a season) on the horizon--it's there, but it hasn't met you yet. It's what ends the poem, and what ends the post tonight.

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