Icy Apathy: an Interpretation of Wallace Stevens’ “Snow Man” (1931) Essay

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Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Snow Man” is an examination of the observation of nature. With a poet’s hand, he questions whether an observer can see nature with a mind of nature, without confining it to metaphors of human emotion. The speaker of the poem claims that in order to “regard” the winter landscape, “and not to think / Of any misery in the sound of the wind” (ll. 7 - 8), one must “have a mind of winter” (l. 1), and one must “have been cold a long time” (l. 4). In the final stanza, the speaker, who calls himself “the listener”, “listens in the snow” (l. 13) with the reader looking over his shoulder, immersed in the scene as well. The speaker in the poem is describing an act of eliminating the humanness from the way he observes a winter scene. The speaker, perhaps in an attempt to more clearly regard the winter, or perhaps in a philosophical thought experiment, becomes one with nature by merging his mind with the ice, snow, and wind. And so he becomes a Snow Man, a “listener”, seeing nature from the perspective of nature itself and so unaffected by human emotions like misery. The final lines of the poem describe an achievement of this intent to become one with the winter, but instead of resolving the question of the poem, a kind of paradox is presented. The listener, “nothing himself, beholds / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” (ll. 14 - 15) And so in attaining this “mind of winter”, the speaker of the poem, as well as this hypothetical “One” in which the reader can place herself, observes that nature is unconscious. And so, although the intent was perhaps to better understand nature by seeing it unhindered by human emotion, when stripped of emotion an observer fails to see anything at all, and becomes nothing himself. In this way Stevens asserts that a winter landscape exists more fully when regarded by a human mind and heart. The poem

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