Winter daydreams

One of the most significant American poets of the 20th century, Wallace Stevens was not widely recognized until after the publication of his Collected Poems (1954). His poetry explores the tension between reality and the human imagination.

Stevens is a rare example of a poet whose main creative output came late in his life. His first major publication was produced at the age of thirty-five, although as an undergraduate at Harvard, he had written poetry and exchanged sonnets with the philosopher George Santayana. In the words of literary critic Harold Bloom, Stevens was the “best and most representative” American poet of the time.

In an interview with The New York Times (3 October 1954), Stevens said:

“I avoid writing things because someone wants them on particular subjects. That’s the wrong beginning, and I don’t like artificial ideas. The only value to yourself in respect to any poem is that it shall be true. To me, poetry is a very important sanction to life–life from which traditional sanctions are disappearing.”

The same newspaper’s obituary (3 August 1955) noted that, “Wallace Stevens was a weaver whose threads were words. He spun webs to trap his moods.”

“The Snow Man” was first published in the October 1921 issue of the journal Poetry. Stevens invites the reader to see winter as it were from the inside out. In place of severity, Stevens offers startling beauty and, in a poem that is just one sentence long, objectivity rather than sentimentality.

“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.”



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